Explosions rocked villages and towns across Ukraine on Thursday, damaging civilian infrastructure and killing at least three people in what Kyiv said was one of Moscow’s largest rocket fires since the war began in February.
Authorities have been warning for days that Russia is preparing to launch an all-out attack on the power grid to end 2022, which would plunge the country into darkness while Ukrainians try to ring in the New Year and close the Christmas holidays Celebrations that are for the country Orthodox Christians fall on January 7th.
“Russian terrorists in the last few days of the year saved one of the most massive rocket attacks since the start of the full-scale invasion,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday. “They dream that Ukrainians will celebrate the New Year in the dark and cold. But they cannot defeat the Ukrainian people.”
When 34-year-old Anastasiia Hryn, a 34-year-old resident of Kyiv, woke up to the sound of air raid sirens followed by an explosion, she and her son descended into the basement shelter beneath their building. But they were neither particularly surprised nor let it spoil their mood.
“I expected this kind of attack before the new year. There were reports in the news that something like this was being prepared,” she told CNN.
After the sirens gave the all-clear, life in the capital returned to normal, Hryn said: “In the elevator I met my neighbors with their child, who were in a hurry to get to the cinema in time for the new Avatar film.” Parents brought their children went to school and people went to work while others defiantly went ahead with their vacation plans.
Anna Kovalchuk, another Kiev resident, said she was determined not to let the Russians ruin her upcoming celebrations. “I’m more worried that on New Year’s Eve there will most likely be no electricity and the holidays will have to be spent in the dark. But I started preparing for such a scenario in advance, stocking up on garlands and power banks so that the blackout would upset us but not stop us,” she told CNN.
Elsewhere in the capital, Halyna Hladka stocked up water as soon as the sirens sounded and quickly made breakfast for her family so they had something to eat. After almost two hours, they heard the sound of explosions. “It seemed to me that they were very close to our area, but it turned out to be air defense,” she told CNN. “Not a single attack will negate the fact that we will celebrate the New Year with family.”
With the war expected to drag on for another year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would not negotiate with Kyiv on the basis of the 10-point peace formula proposed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which would require Russia’s withdrawal from the entire Ukrainian territory, a path to nuclear safety, food security, a special tribunal for suspected Russian war crimes, and a final peace treaty with Moscow.
Lavrov told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency that Zelenskyy had “fostered the illusion” that with the help of Western nations he could force Russia’s withdrawal from Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbass regions, Bring Zaporizhia and Kherson, as well as Russia, to international courts and pay reparations. “We will not speak to anyone under such conditions,” he said.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that Russia is open to diplomatic solutions and repeated statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days that he wanted the war to end. Putin’s claim that he was open to negotiations was roundly dismissed as a ruse by Kyiv and the West.
At least three people were killed and seven injured in the nationwide attacks, according to Ukraine’s state emergency services.
Russia’s attack on Thursday targeted the country’s electrical infrastructure, shutting down power in several regions. Engineering teams are scrambling to restore services as the Lunar New Year holiday approaches this weekend.
Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said Lviv, Kyiv and Odessa were particularly hard hit and had experienced emergency power outages – when power is cut off as a precaution to reduce damage caused by short circuits in the grid.
“Today the enemy carried out another massive attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure,” Halushchenko said in a post on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is some damage to generation plants and power grids.”
Forty percent of Kiev residents are without electricity, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, adding that this was due to safety measures taken by power engineers during the air raid and that they are now working to resume service. “The city supplies heat and water in normal operation,” Klitschko said on the messaging app Telegram.
At least three people, including a 14-year-old, were injured Thursday and two people were pulled from a damaged home, Klitschko said earlier. According to the city’s military administration, attacks on Kyiv damaged residential buildings, an industrial plant and a playground in the capital.
In western Ukraine, Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovyi said 90% of the city was without electricity and warned that the city’s waterworks could also stop working if there was a power outage.
Authorities in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, said emergency power cuts had been introduced amid the rocket attacks. “They are being introduced due to the threat of missile attacks to avoid significant damage if the enemy manages to hit energy facilities,” DTEK, a utility company, said in a statement.
At least two people have been killed in attacks in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said four missiles hit the city – likely S300s – and that critical infrastructure was the intended target.
“Senseless barbarism.” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said those were the only words that came to mind as he watched Moscow launch a new wave of attacks on Ukrainian cities ahead of the New Year, adding that in view of such aggression “no neutrality” could give.
Ukraine’s military said the majority of cruise missiles fired at Ukraine on Thursday were intercepted, with its defense forces shooting down 54 out of 69, according to preliminary data. Klitschko said 16 missiles were destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses over Kyiv.
“The enemy continues to resort to his rocket terror against the peaceful citizens of Ukraine,” Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on Telegram, adding that the Russians had also fired air- and sea-launched cruise missiles as well as anti-aircraft guided missiles like the S -300 to energy infrastructure facilities. The Ukrainian military also shot down 11 Iranian Shahed drones, which are expected to explode on impact, he said.
There were conflicting reports about the extent of the attacks. An aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said in a previous post that Russia fired more than 120 rockets into the barrage, without giving further details. He said the intent of the attack was to “destroy critical infrastructure and mass killings of civilians.”