Ukraine has accused Russia of attacking civilian infrastructure after attacks on the country’s power grid caused widespread blackouts.
- Russian bombardment ignites a massive fire at a power plant in Kharkiv
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the aim of the attacks is to deprive civilians of light and heat
- Ukraine had just forced Russian troops to withdraw from the northeastern part of the country
Officials said the bombardment was revenge for a swift weekend offensive that drove Russia from its main stronghold in the Kharkiv region.
They said the targets included water facilities and a thermal power plant in Kharkiv.
“No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light and heat,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter late Sunday.
The US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, also condemned the strikes.
“Russia’s apparent response to Ukraine’s liberation of towns and villages in the east: sending missiles to try to destroy critical civilian infrastructure,” she tweeted.
Moscow denies that its forces have deliberately targeted civilians.
Sir. Zelenskyy has described Ukraine’s offensive in the northeast as a potential breakthrough in the six-month-old war and said the winter could see further territorial gains if Kiev received more powerful weapons.
In the worst defeat for Moscow’s forces since they were repulsed from the outskirts of the capital Kiev in March, thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled the city of Izium, which they had used as a logistics hub.
Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said the armed forces had regained control of more than 3,000 square kilometers since the beginning of this month.
Moscow’s near total silence on the defeat – or any explanation of what happened in northeastern Ukraine – has provoked some pro-war commentators and Russian nationalists on social media, who have called on President Vladimir Putin to make immediate changes to ensure that Russia wins war.
Russian attack ‘cynical revenge’
Sir. Zelenskyy said late Sunday that Russian attacks caused total blackout in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions and partial blackout in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.
“They are unable to accept defeat on the battlefield,” Dnipropetrovsk governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Ukrainian officials said Russia hit the Kharkiv TEC-5, the country’s second largest heat and power plant.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov described Sunday’s attack as “cynical revenge” for the success of Ukrainian troops, particularly in Kharkiv.
Ukraine’s gains are important politically for Mr Zelenskyy as he seeks to keep Europe united behind Ukraine – providing arms and money – even as an energy crisis looms this winter following cuts in Russian gas supplies to European customers.
He has said that Ukrainian forces will continue to advance.
Kiev-based military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the gains could bring a further push into the Luhansk region, which Russia captured in early July.
“Looking at the map, it is logical to assume that the offensive will develop in the direction of Svatove – Starobelsk and Sievierodonetsk – Lysychansk,” he said.
‘It’s a sign Russia can be defeated’
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine needed to secure recaptured territory against a possible Russian counterattack on stretched Ukrainian supply lines.
He told the Financial Times that Ukrainian forces could be surrounded by fresh Russian troops if they advanced too far.
But he said the offensive had gone far better than expected, describing it as a “snowball rolling down a hill”.
“It is a sign that Russia can be defeated,” he said.
The head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv asked residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia, TASS reported on Saturday. Witnesses described traffic jams with people leaving Russian-controlled territory.
Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Ukrainian forces were trying to penetrate this region, which has been held by Russian forces since July.
“Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups have not stopped their attempts to infiltrate the territory of the republic with the aim of provoking and intimidating our citizens,” he said, adding that there had been “no withdrawal from positions occupied by the republic”.