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Russia pounds power facilities of Ukraine, Kremlin embraces ‘war’ rhetoric

By: Reuters March 23,2024 - 06:00 AM

Russia pounds Ukrainian power facilities, Kremlin embraces 'war' rhetoric

Smoke and fire are seen around high-voltage lines at a site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, outside Kharkiv, Ukraine March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

KYIV — Russia pounded Ukrainian power facilities on Friday in an attack described by Kyiv as the largest airstrike on its energy infrastructure in two years of war, and portrayed by Moscow as revenge for Ukrainian attacks during its presidential election.

The missile and drone attack hit a vast dam over the Dnipro river, killed at least five people and left more than a million others without power, forcing Kyiv to seek emergency electricity supplies from Poland, Romania and Slovakia, Kyiv officials said.

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The strikes, which Kyiv said caused blackouts in seven regions, revived memories of the winter of 2022-23 when Moscow regularly bombed Ukraine’s power grid. 

The Russian defence ministry said the airstrike was carried out in retaliation for Ukrainian shelling and cross-border raids last week as Russians took part in a stage-managed election that handed President Vladimir Putin a fifth term.

“The world sees the targets of Russian terrorists as clearly as possible: power plants and energy supply lines, a hydroelectric dam, ordinary residential buildings, even a trolleybus,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

Condemning the attack, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said: “The goal is not just to damage, but to try again, like last year, to cause a large-scale failure of the country’s energy system.”   

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians although the war that began with its full-scale invasion in February 2022 has killed thousands of people, uprooted millions and destroyed towns and cities. 

READ: Putin vows, in poll victory speech, Russia cannot be held back

Russia pounds Ukrainian power facilities, Kremlin embraces 'war' rhetoric

Firefighters work at a site of a critical power infrastructure object, which was hit during Russia’s missiles strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, outside Kharkiv, Ukraine March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

Moscow says Ukrainian power facilities are legitimate targets and that such attacks are aimed at weakening Kyiv’s military.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian publication on Friday that Moscow saw itself as in a “state of war” because of the West’s intervention on Kyiv’s side. 

The comment marked a rhetorical break from the “special military operation” language that Moscow officials have used throughout the invasion, in an apparent move to prepare Russians for a longer and harder struggle. 

European Union Council President Charles Michel said Russia’s comments about war with Europe showed the importance of the EU building its own defence industry.  

READ: Putin says Ukraine matter of life and death for Russia

‘Dire humanitarian situation’

Two people were killed in the western Khmelnytskyi region and three in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast, including at least one at the dam, said the local administration and general prosecutor’s office. Over 30 people were reported injured. 

Ukraine’s largest dam, the DniproHES in the city of Zaporizhzhia, was hit eight times, an official from the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said. 

The state hydropower company said there was no risk of a breach. The company’s director, Ihor Syrota, said both its power blocks and the dam itself had been damaged. One of the blocks sustained two direct strikes, he said.

A state ecological inspectorate said that oil had leaked into the Dnipro river which the dam straddles. A picture showed what appeared to be oil slicks forming on the river by the dam.

Russia pounds Ukrainian power facilities, Kremlin embraces 'war' rhetoric

Rescuers work at a site of residential buildings heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine March 22, 2024. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Khmelnytskyi region/Handout via REUTERS

“The wide impact of today’s attacks on critical civilian infrastructure is deepening the already dire humanitarian situation for millions of people in Ukraine,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said in a statement. 

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said around 20 substations and electricity stations had been hit in addition to the dam.

Russia fired 88 missiles and 63 Shahed drones, of which only 37 and 55 were shot down respectively, the Ukrainian air force said of the attacks concentrated in the regions of Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia. 

That represented a worse ratio than usual, possibly reflecting Moscow’s widespread use of ballistic missiles that are harder to shoot down and also the proximity of the targeted regions to Russian-controlled areas.

Some 1.2 million people in at least four regions were left without power due to the attacks, presidential aide Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram. Around 700,000 of those were in the eastern region of Kharkiv alone.    

Ukraine’s largest private energy company, DTEK, said some of its thermal power plants had been hit. Ukraine’s state oil and gas company Naftogaz said its facilities had been damaged by the strike, without providing details of what had been hit.

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TAGS: power facilities, Russia, Ukraine

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