A renewed barrage of Russian missile attacks over Ukraine on Friday morning put the whole country on air alert and forced people to seek shelter as explosions sounded overhead, strikes hit critical infrastructure and cut power.
“You saw the goal of leaving Ukrainians without light, water and heat,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a government meeting, adding that 60 of the 76 missiles fired at Ukraine were intercepted by its air defense forces .
Russia’s ongoing and pervasive attacks on Ukraine’s power grid have left millions of civilians without, at least temporarily, electricity, heating, water and other essential services during the freezing winter months. Repeated rocket and drone strikes since October that have damaged or destroyed civilian infrastructure are part of a Kremlin strategy to terrorize Ukrainians and violate martial law, experts say.
Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo reported on Friday that more than 50% of the country’s energy capacity has been lost to Russian strikes at thermal and hydroelectric power plants and substations, activating “emergency operation”.
“The enemy is massively attacking Ukraine. Increased danger. Stay in temporary shelters,” Oleksiy Kuleba, the head of Kyiv’s regional military administration, wrote on the messaging app Telegram, urging residents not to ignore the alarm.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions hit the city and three districts were hit in the rocket attack, cutting off water supplies throughout the capital. He suggested residents prepare a supply of drinking water while technicians work to restore supplies and not leave the shelters while the attacks continue.
Residents wrapped in winter coats, hats and scarves gathered at Kiev’s subway stations as sirens wailed. Huddled on escalators, their faces were lit by their phones as they scrolled through updates.
A photo shared by authorities in the Kyiv region showed the fragments of a missile in the snow shot down by the air defense system. The military administration of the city of Kyiv claimed that 37 out of 40 rockets aimed at the capital were intercepted.
Regional and city authorities across the country reported explosions and rocket attacks that hit civilian infrastructure and resulted in some fatalities.
In downtown Kryvyi Rih, officials said a Russian missile hit a three-story apartment building, killing at least two people and digging through the rubble for emergency services. “There may be people under the rubble,” said Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko.
According to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the regional military administration, at least 10 rockets hit various targets in the northern Kharkiv region, damaging power plants and a hospital. Power began to be restored in the city of Kharkiv after being out for most of the day. “There is colossal infrastructure damage,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said, directing residents to use so-called “invincibility points” — makeshift centers that provide relief during power outages — to collect food and hot drinks and charge cell phones .
The southeastern Zaporizhia region has been hit by more than a dozen rocket attacks, according to Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the regional military administration, but it was unclear what the target was.
Meanwhile, in the southern city of Kherson, which was liberated by Ukrainian forces in November, artillery and rocket attacks hit critical infrastructure, residential buildings, medical aid and public transport, killing four people, according to the head of the region’s military administration. The shelling also set fire to a multi-story apartment building, and the body of a man was found in one apartment, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said. The city is still struggling to restore basic services.
Parts of Ukraine’s railway system in Kharkiv, Kirovohrad, Donetsk and the Dnepropetrovsk region were without power after the strikes, and spare diesel locomotives replaced some services. Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said nine power generation plants were damaged in Friday’s attacks and warned of more power outages.
Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of the Energy Industry Research Center, a Ukrainian research and consulting company, told Ukrainian TV that power cuts before the strikes were introduced as a preventive measure to protect the power grid from blackouts. The outcome of Friday morning’s attacks will still be “uncomfortable,” he added.
“Unfortunately, we are already seeing that they (the Russians) are hitting the power plants again, trying to shut down our nuclear and thermal power plants, damaging other key energy centers and focusing their attacks on those facilities,” Kharchenko said. “I urge Ukrainians to understand that the situation is difficult, I urge them to be as prepared as possible for the fact that there will be no rapid improvement in the situation with electricity.”
Ukrainian forces said Russia had bombarded the country with 76 rockets and launched cruise missiles from its fleets in the Black and Caspian Seas and, for the first time, from Tu-95 strategic bombers at Engels airbase on the Volga River in southern Russia.
Engels Air Force Base, which is home to Russia’s long-range nuclear-capable bombers, was the target of a drone attack in early December, according to the Kremlin, with two planes being slightly damaged. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
A MiG-31K, a supersonic aircraft capable of carrying a Kinzal hypersonic missile, was also sighted in the skies over Belarus during Friday’s airstrikes in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian forces. However, their testimony did not indicate whether a Kinzal was used in the attacks.
“The enemy wanted to massively divert air defense attention,” said a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Yuriy Ihnat. Ukraine’s top military chief Valeriy Zaluzhny later said that 60 of the missiles were shot down by the country’s air defense forces.
Last Monday May. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, claimed that Russia had almost exhausted its arsenal of high-precision weapons, but still had enough stocks to cause damage. He added that Iran had not supplied a ballistic missile to Russia – an analysis echoed by White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby.
“We know their defense industrial base is taxed,” Kirby said of Russia. “We know they are struggling to keep up with this pace. We know that he (Russian President Vladimir Putin) has difficulties refilling special precision-guided ammunition.”
CNN is unable to verify the level of Russian missile stockpiles, previously underestimated by Ukrainian officials.
The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot, the US’s most advanced ground-based air defense system, to Ukraine, according to two US officials and a senior government official. The Ukrainian government has long called on the system to repel repeated Russian missile and drone attacks. It would be the most effective long-range defensive weapons system sent to the country and officials say it will help secure airspace for members of the North Atlantic Treaty and Americas (NATO) in Eastern Europe.
In a press conference on Friday, the White House condemned the Russian attacks on largely civilian infrastructure. Kirby said the attacks showed that Moscow “is again trying to instill fear in the hearts of the Ukrainian people and make it so much harder for them than winter is now.”
He declined to give details about the next security aid package for Ukraine but said there “will be another” and that additional air defense capabilities are to be expected.
The US and NATO countries have grappled in recent months with how to help Ukraine defend against relentless Russian attacks, which Ukrainian officials said have destroyed about half of the country’s energy infrastructure.
On Tuesday, about 70 countries and international organizations pledged more than $1 billion to help repair Ukraine’s infrastructure. Last week, the Pentagon announced it had approved an additional $275 million in security aid to Ukraine, including weapons, artillery shells and equipment to help Ukraine bolster its air defenses. In November, the US announced a $53 million package to help repairs to Ukraine’s power system.
The “first tranche” of energy-related equipment included in the US package has arrived in Ukraine, Kirby said on Friday.