Ukrainians endure blackouts as power curbs follow Russian air strikes

Ukrainian workers carry out repairs at an electric power plant partially damaged in shelling by Russian forces, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Oct 20 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KYIV - Ukrainians endured power curbs including the first blackouts imposed by grid authorities since the war began on Thursday to allow the repair of infrastructure destroyed by Russian air strikes as Kyiv’s forces pressed on towards the city of Kherson.

Although Ukraine is advancing against Russian troops in the east and the south, it is struggling to protect power generating facilities and other utilities from missile and drone strikes that appear designed to disrupt and demoralise as winter approaches.

People across the country were urged to use less power as the government enforced nationwide curbs on electricity usage between 7am and 11pm, the first such restrictions since Russia’s Feb 24 invasion and including blackouts in some areas.

That followed a barrage of Russian attacks that President Volodymyr Zelensky said had struck a third of all power plants.

Meanwhile, the north-east region of Sumy went without water as some Kyiv grocery stores reported sales of bottled water picking up in preparation for possible shortages there.

“There is much anger against Russian leaders and Russian people,” Mr Mikhaylo Holovnenko, a Kyiv resident, told Reuters.

“But we are ready for outages. We have candles, charged power banks. Ukraine is charged to win.”

Mr Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using energy and hunger as weapons.

“Scorched earth tactics will not help Russia win the war. They will only strengthen the unity and resolve of Ukraine and its partners,” Mr Scholz told the German parliament.

Mr Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said Scholz had “clearly forgotten the Nazi past of his country and the 30 million Soviet people who were killed or died of hunger and cold during the war.”

Russia’s defence ministry said it was again targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure, a strategy it has stepped up since the appointment this month of General Sergei Surovikin - nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media - as commander of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told national TV that Russia had carried out more than 300 air strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities since Oct 10.

He said the government was seeking a 20 per cent reduction in energy use as a result.

“We see a voluntary decrease (in electricity consumption). But when it is not enough, we are forced to bring in forced shutdowns,” he said.

A damaged turbine at an electric power plant hit by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Oct 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Kyiv and Kharkiv announced curbs on the use of electric-powered public transport such as trolleybuses and reduced the frequency of trains on the metro.

“We need time to restore power plants, we need respite from our consumers,” Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, head of grid operator Ukrenergo, told Ukrainian TV.

Iranian drones?

Mr Zelensky said on Wednesday that the power problems would take time to resolve.

“We assume that Russian terror will be directed at energy facilities until, with the help of partners, we are able to shoot down 100 per cent of enemy missiles and drones.”

He was due to address a European Union summit later on Thursday.

Leaders of the 27 member states will discuss options for more support to Ukraine, including energy equipment, helping restore power supply and long-term financing to rebuild.

Much of the destruction has been inflicted by Russian drones, which Ukraine and the West say are Iranian-made, something Teheran denies.

European Union members had agreed on new measures against Iran over its supply of drones to Russia, the bloc’s Czech presidency said.

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On the ground, the Ukrainian military continued to try to press its advance towards the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital Russian forces have captured.

The Russian-appointed administration on Wednesday told civilians to leave the city - control of which gives Russia a land route to Crimea, which it seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnipro river.

Ukraine’s military said in an early Thursday update on the Kherson region that 43 Russian servicemen had been killed and six tanks and other equipment destroyed.

The Russian defence ministry described a battle in the area which it said its forces had won.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports. REUTERS

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