KYIV, Ukraine — Utility crews worked through the dark night in snow and freezing rain to stabilize Ukraine’s battered energy grid on Thursday after another destructive wave of Russian missile strikes, restoring essential services like running water and heating in many parts of the country even as millions remained without electricity.
Ukrainians expressed defiance at Moscow’s relentless campaign to militarize the winter in a bid to weaken their resolve and force Kyiv to capitulate even as Russia inflicts further suffering on a war-weary nation.
Surgeons were forced to work by flashlight, thousands of miners had to be pulled from deep underground by hand winches, and people across the country dragged buckets and bottles of water down stairs in high-rise buildings where elevators had stopped working.
The State Border Service of Ukraine suspended operations at border checkpoints with Hungary and Romania on Thursday due to power outages, and Ukraine’s national rail operator reported delays and disruptions to a network that has served as a resilient lifeline for the nation for nine month of war.
Families charged their phones, warmed up and gathered information at centers set up in towns and villages during prolonged power outages. Police in the capital, Kyiv, and other cities stepped up patrols as shop and restaurant owners turned on generators or lit candles and continued to work.
“The situation is difficult throughout the country,” said Herman Galushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister. But by 4 a.m., he said, engineers had succeeded in “unifying the energy system”, allowing power to be directed to critical infrastructure.
In Moldova, Ukraine’s western neighbour, whose Soviet-era electricity systems remain interconnected with those of Ukraine, the grid has largely been brought back online after the country experienced “blackouts massive,” said the Minister of Infrastructure. said on Twitter. “We are moving forward, stronger and victorious,” wrote Minister Andrei Spinu.
Wednesday’s barrage of Russian missiles killed at least 10 people and injured dozens, Ukrainian officials said, in what appeared to be one of the most disruptive attacks in weeks. Since October 10, Russia has fired about 600 missiles at power stations, hydroelectric facilities, water pumping stations and treatment facilities, high voltage cables around nuclear power plants and critical substations that power tens of millions of homes and businesses, according to Ukrainian officials.
The campaign is wreaking havoc. Wednesday’s strikes knocked out all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants for the first time, depriving the country of one of its most vital sources of energy.
“We expect nuclear power plants to start operating in the evening, so the deficit will decrease,” Galushchenko said.
General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down 51 of 67 Russian cruise missiles fired on Wednesday and five of 10 drones.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday evening, denounced what he called a Russian terror campaign.
“When the temperature outside drops below zero and tens of millions of people are left without power, heat and water as a result of Russian missiles hitting energy facilities,” he said, “it’s a obvious crime against humanity”.
In an interview with the Financial Times published on Thursday, Zelensky said Ukraine’s determination to regain all of its territory would not be weakened by Russian attacks on its energy system.
In Kyiv, about one in four homes still had no power as of Thursday afternoon, and more than half of the city’s residents had no running water, city officials said. Service has been gradually restored, city officials said, and they said they were confident the pumps that provide water to some three million residents would be restored by the end of the day. .
Dmytro Saharuk, executive director of Ukraine’s largest private energy investor, DTEK, said electricity had been restored for around 30% of Kyiv’s residents, but would only be available for around two or three hours per week. day during system restore. He said all essential infrastructure in the city has been restored.
Transit has been suspended in the southern port city of Odessa on the Black Sea so that limited energy supplies can be directed to restoring water. In the Lviv region of western Ukraine, where millions displaced by fighting, electricity and water have fled, services have largely been restored.
The national energy utility, Ukrenergo, said that given “the extent of the damage” and the difficult working conditions, repairs in some areas could take longer than others.
“There is no reason to panic,” the utility said in a statement. Critical infrastructure would all be reconnected, he said.
Power is slowly returning to the key southern city of Mykolaiv. As of 9 p.m. local time, it had been restored to about half of the city. The long avenues were eerie and deserted, with the lampposts extinguished, and in many buildings a solitary light burned somewhere inside, most likely a flashlight. But a lot of people here didn’t seem so out of shape.
“They want us to suffer,” said Anhelina Peresunko, a hotel manager sitting in a flickering candlelit lobby Wednesday night when the power went out. “But I’m not worried. No way. We charge all of our power banks and phones. We are always preparing.
Jeffrey Gettleman contributed from Mykolaiv.