International

Most Ukrainians left without power after new Russian strikes

In this photo provided by the Zaporizhzhia region military administration, Ukrainian firefighters work at damaged hospital maternity ward in Vilniansk, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, early Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. An overnight rocket attack struck a hospital maternity ward in southern Ukraine, killing a newborn baby, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday. The baby's mother and a doctor were pulled alive from the rubble. The region's governor said the rockets were Russian. (Zaporizhzhia region military administration via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A punishing new barrage of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure on Wednesday caused power outages across large parts of the country as well as neighboring Moldova, piling more damage onto Ukraine’s already battered power network and adding to the misery for civilians as winter begins.

Multiple regions reported attacks in quick succession and Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said that “the vast majority of electricity consumers were cut off.” Officials in Kyiv said three people were killed and nine wounded in the capital after a Russian strike hit a two-story building.

Russia has been pounding the power grid and other facilities with missiles and exploding drones for weeks and the energy system is being damaged faster than it can be repaired.

Before the latest barrage, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had said that Russian strikes had already damaged around half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Rolling power outages have become the horrid new normal for millions and the latest barrage affected water supplies, too. Ukrainian officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping that the misery of unheated and unlit homes in the cold and dark of winter will turn public opinion against a continuation of the war but say it’s having the opposite effect, strengthening Ukrainian resolve.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Wednesday that “one of the capital’s infrastructure facilities has been hit” and there were “several more explosions in different districts” of the city. He said water supplies were knocked out in all of Kyiv.

There were power outages in parts of Kyiv, while power was out in the wider Kyiv region, in the northern city of Kharkiv, the western city of Lviv, and in all or part of the Chernihiv, Kirovohrad, Odesa and Khmelnytskyi regions. In Moldova, Infrastructure Minister Andrei Spinu said that “we have massive power outages across the country,” whose Soviet-era energy systems remain interconnected with Ukraine.

It was the second outage this month in Moldova. The country’s pro-Western president, Maia Sandu, said in a statement that “Russia left Moldova in the dark.” She said that the future of Moldova, a country of about 2.6 million people, “must remain toward the free world.” Moldova’s foreign minister said the Russian ambassador was being summoned to give explanations.

Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear operator, Energoatom, said the strikes led to the country’s last three fully functioning nuclear power stations all being disconnected from the power grid in an “emergency protection” measure. It said they would resume supplying electricity as soon as the grid is “normalized.” Energoatom said on its Telegram channel that radiation levels at the sites are unchanged and “all indicators are normal.”

The Energy Ministry said the attacks also caused a temporary blackout of most thermal and hydroelectric power plants, and transmission facilities also were affected. Power workers were working to restore supply, “but given the extent of the damage, we will need time,” it said on Facebook.

Ukraine’s Air Force said Russia launched around 70 cruise missiles on Wednesday and 51 were shot down, as were five exploding drones.

The barrages started in October, with targets being hit early in the morning and power restored to many places by the evening. Wednesday’s strike and another major round last week occurred in the afternoon on short winter days, leaving workers toiling to restore supplies after dark.

Wednesday’s blackouts also caused “the largest internet outage in Ukraine in months and the first to affect neighboring Moldova, which has since partially recovered,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network-monitoring Kentik Inc.

The latest onslaught came hours after Ukrainian authorities said an overnight rocket attack destroyed a hospital maternity ward in southern Ukraine, killing a 2-day-old baby. Following the overnight strike in Vilniansk, close to the city of Zaporizhzhia, the baby’s mother and a doctor were pulled alive from the rubble.

The region’s governor said the rockets were Russian. The strike adds to the gruesome toll suffered by hospitals and other medical facilities — and their patients and staff — in the Russian invasion that will enter its tenth month this week.

They have been in the firing line from the outset, including a March 9 airstrike that destroyed a maternity hospital in the now-occupied port city of Mariupol.

First lady Olena Zelenska wrote on Twitter that a 2-day-old boy died in the strike and expressed her condolences. “Horrible pain. We will never forget and never forgive,” she said.

Photos posted by the governor showed thick smoke rising above mounds of rubble, being combed by emergency workers against the backdrop of a dark night sky. The State Emergency Service said the two-story building was destroyed.

Medical workers’ efforts have been complicated by the succession of Russian attacks in recent weeks on Ukraine’s infrastructure.

The situation is even worse in the southern city of Kherson, from which Russia retreated nearly two weeks ago after months of occupation — cutting power and water lines.

Many doctors in the city are working in the dark, unable to use elevators to transport patients to surgery and operating with headlamps, cell phones and flashlights. In some hospitals, key equipment no longer works.

“Breathing machines don’t work, X-ray machines don’t work … There is only one portable ultrasound machine and we carry it constantly,” said Volodymyr Malishchuk, the head of surgery at a children’s hospital in the city.

On Tuesday, after strikes on Kherson seriously wounded 13-year-old Artur Voblikov, a team of health staff carefully maneuvered the sedated boy up six flights of a narrow staircase to an operating room to amputate his left arm.

Malischchuk said that three children wounded by Russian strikes have come to the hospital this week, half as many as had previously been admitted in all of the nine months since the invasion began. Picking up a piece of shrapnel that was found in a 14-year-old boy’s stomach, he said children are arriving with severe head injuries and ruptured internal organs.

Artur’s mother, Natalia Voblikova, sat in the dark hospital with her daughter, waiting for his surgery to end.

“You can’t even call (Russians) animals, because animals take care of their own,” said Voblikova wiping tears from her eyes. “But the children … Why kill children?”

The European Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a resolution labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism for its invasion of and actions in Ukraine. The nonbinding but symbolically significant resolution passed in a 494-58 vote with 48 abstentions.

After Wednesday’s strikes, senior Zelenskyy aide Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram: “The terrorists immediately confirm that they are terrorists — they launch rockets. Naive losers.”

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Mednick reported from Kherson, Ukraine.