Russian shelling of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson killed 15 civilians on Friday, authorities said, as engineers across the country tried to restore heat, water and power to major cities.
Across the country, Russian airstrikes in recent weeks have brought Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to its knees as winter approaches and temperatures near freezing, raising fears of a health crisis and a new exodus
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than six million homes in the country were still affected by power outages, two days after Russia targeted attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
The country’s national power company, Ukrenergo, said late Friday that the grid was still facing a 30 percent shortfall, with its technicians working “24 hours a day” to restore power. But he said he expected to increase coverage over the weekend, buoyed by additional nuclear power.
The attack on Kherson, a key southeastern city recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, marked the deadliest Russian shelling in recent days.
A total of “15 residents were killed and 35 injured, including a child, as a result of enemy shelling,” said Galyna Lugova, a city official. Several “private houses and high-rise buildings” were damaged, she added.
“Russian invaders opened fire on a residential area with several rocket launchers. A large building caught fire,” said Yarovslav Yanushovich, head of the Kherson military administration.
Earlier on Friday, the region’s governor said patients at the city hospital and others at a psychiatric unit had been evacuated due to “constant shelling from Russia.”
The Kherson city council said it was offering to evacuate civilians to other regions.
The attacks on power plants and other infrastructure resources across Ukraine are the latest attempt by Russia to force Ukraine’s capitulation after Moscow’s forces failed to overthrow the government and capture Kyiv in the early stages of the war.
In the capital, where about half the residents were still without power two days after Russian strikes knocked out the country’s power grid, engineers worked to restore services.
“We have to get through this winter, a winter everyone will remember,” Zelensky said on social media, as UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited the country to announce a new aid package.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told a government meeting: “Almost all of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure has been reconnected.”
Critical infrastructure includes water utilities, heat generation plants, hospitals, and emergency services.
But Shmygal said ordinary consumers continued to face scheduled power outages in all regions of the country.
Ukraine’s Western allies have denounced Russian attacks on energy infrastructure as a “war crime.” The attacks came in the wake of a series of military setbacks for Russia on the front lines.
Moscow insists it is only targeting military-related infrastructure and has blamed Kyiv for the blackouts, saying Ukraine can end the suffering if it agrees to Russia’s demands.
Putin meets mothers
Meanwhile, for the first time since the war began in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine and assured those whose sons had died that he and the Russian elite “share this pain”.
“I want you to know that I personally and the entire leadership of the country share this pain,” he told them.
He said many reports on the conflict could not be trusted, describing them as “fake news, hoaxes and lies.”
Russia has introduced legislation that effectively prohibits public criticism of the war.
Critics of the Kremlin accuse the authorities of hiding the real number of dead and wounded Russian soldiers.
Anger and concern have built up in Russia since the Kremlin announced in September that hundreds of thousands of well-trained and well-equipped recruits would be sent to the battlefield to bolster Moscow’s struggling campaign.
But chaos ensued, with widespread reports of exempt men, including the elderly and infirm, being sent to the front lines and recruits dying after receiving almost no training, forcing the Kremlin to admit “mistakes.”
Putin’s meeting with the soldiers’ mothers is a sign that the Kremlin is taking the growing unrest seriously.
Visiting Kyiv on Friday, Britain’s foreign minister announced new aid for Ukraine, including ambulances and support for victims of sexual violence by Russian soldiers.
“Russia continues to try to break Ukraine’s resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals and energy infrastructure,” Cleverly said.
“Russia will fail,” he said, vowing UK support “will continue as long as it is needed.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Wagner mercenary team, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Friday that a former US Marine general and several British and Finnish fighters were operating with the group in Ukraine.
“(The Finns) are fighting in a British battalion (as part of the Wagner PMC), which is commanded by an American citizen, a former Marine Corps general,” Prigozhin’s press service told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.