Russian forces have bombarded power facilities across Ukraine as officials said a new Russian offensive was under way in the east.
Ukraine’s air force said 61 of 71 Russian missiles had been shot down on Friday. But energy minister German Galushchenko said Russia had hit power facilities in six regions with missiles and drones, causing blackouts across most of Ukraine.
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Russia has repeatedly attacked civilian infrastructure far from the front lines, leaving millions of Ukrainians without power, heat or water for days at a time in the middle of winter.
The barrages have often followed Ukrainian diplomatic or battlefield advances.
Friday’s attack came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ended a tour of European allies, where he was enthusiastically received but secured no public promises of the fighter jets he was asking for.
“London, Paris, Brussels – everywhere I spoke these past few days about how to strengthen our soldiers. There are very important understandings and we received good signals,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“This concerns long-range missiles and tanks and the next level of our cooperation – fighter aircraft.”
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 10 Russian missiles had been shot down over the Ukrainian capital after sirens blared during the morning rush hour and weary civilians took shelter.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine was without 44 percent of nuclear generation and 75 percent of thermal power capacity.
“This is a deliberate targeting of infrastructure that keeps Ukrainians alive in winter,” said US Department of State deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and said that the facilities it attacked supported Kyiv’s war effort.
Ukraine has been bracing for a new Russian offensive, believing that President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a battlefield success before the anniversary of the February 24 invasion. Ukrainian governors in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east said the that thrust had begun.
Putin will give his delayed annual showcase address to parliament on February 21. That was the date last year when he recognised as independent the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that were controlled by Russian-backed separatists, a prelude to invading.
The complete capture of those provinces, among four that Russia subsequently claimed to have annexed, would let Putin assert that one of his main priorities had been achieved.
Also before the invasion anniversary, US President Joe Biden will visit Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, from February 20 to 22 and speak about Ukraine as well as meet allies, the White House announced on Friday.
Russian forces focus on Donbas
Russian ground forces were focusing on Ukraine’s industrial east, especially the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that make up the industrial Donbas region where recent fighting has been most intense, the Ukrainian military said. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
Kyiv has said Russian forces are pushing at key points on several fronts in the Donbas region, though Russian progress is reportedly slow.
In the Donetsk region, local Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian military deployed additional troops and launched offensive operations.
“There is a daily escalation and Russian attacks are becoming active throughout the region,” Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
In Luhansk province, the Russian army is trying to punch through Ukrainian defences, according to regional Governor Serhiy Haidai.
“The situation is deteriorating, the enemy is constantly attacking; the Russians are bringing in a large amount of heavy equipment and aircraft,” Haidai said.
There has been little change in battlefield positions for weeks amid freezing winter conditions.
Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed head of the Donetsk region, said that Russian forces had secured positions on the southern outskirts of Vuhledar.
He added that Ukraine has sent additional reinforcements to the city that slowed the Russian advance.
Pushilin’s claim could not be independently verified.
Vuhledar is a strategically important town that sits next to a railway link crossing the region on the way to Crimea.
Capturing the town is important for Russia to secure the safety of the railway connection to Crimea and advance its goal of seizing the entire Donetsk region.