Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned of new Russian missile attacks on his country, urging defence forces and citizens to be prepared to withstand a new week of strain on the power grid.
The warning on Sunday came as snow fell in Kyiv and temperatures hovered around freezing with fog forecast overnight.
City authorities said workers were close to completing the restoration of power, water and heat, but high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed. Millions in and around Kyiv were coping with disruptions caused by waves of Russian air raids.
“We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down.”
Zelenskyy said the coming week could be as difficult as the previous week, when attacks on electricity infrastructure subjected Ukrainians to the most acute power cuts since Russian troops invaded in February.
“Our defence forces are getting ready. The entire country is getting ready,” he said. “We have worked out all the scenarios, including with our partners.”
There was no immediate response from Moscow to Zelenskyy’s claims.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Moscow has said it does not target the civilian population. The Kremlin said on Thursday that Kyiv could “end the suffering” of its population by meeting Russia’s demands.
Russia annexed swathes of Ukraine’s east and south in September, and President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow’s territorial demands are non-negotiable. After the annexation, Zelenskyy said he would not negotiate with Moscow and stressed that Ukraine’s territorial integrity could not be negotiated.
Tense front lines
Sunday was relatively calm with no major attacks on Kyiv or other big cities. Ukraine’s central army command said Russian forces launched four missile attacks and fired multiple times on civilian objects in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a think tank that has been closely monitoring developments in Ukraine, said reporting from both sides indicated that heavy rain and mud have had an effect, along with wider freezing expected along the front lines in the coming days.
ISW said Russian forces were digging in further east of the city of Kherson, from which Ukrainian forces expelled them more than two weeks ago, and continued “routine artillery fire” across the Dnieper River. The think tank also cited reports that Russian troops were moving multiple launch rocket and ground-to-air missile systems into positions closer to the city.
Zelenskyy said the situation remained tense along the front lines in various parts of the country.
“The most difficult is in Donetsk region as has been the case in previous weeks,” he said.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian troops had shelled a dozen villages in Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
Moscow has targeted vital infrastructure in recent weeks through waves of air raids that have sparked widespread power outages and killed civilians.
News attacks last Wednesday caused the worst damage so far in the nine-month conflict, leaving millions of people with no light, water or heat, as temperatures fell below 0C (32F).
Grid operator Ukrenergo, which has described the damage to power generating facilities as “colossal”, said cold weather is gradually boosting energy needs as workers race to repair wrecked power facilities.
Electricity producers still cannot resume full power supply after Russia’s missile attacks on Wednesday and must conserve energy by imposing blackouts, it said.
“The consumption restriction regime is still in place due to a capacity deficit, which currently stands at around 20 percent,” Ukrenergo said on Telegram.
Zelenskyy said on Sunday utility and emergency teams were working around the clock to provide power, with the situation “under control” though most regions were subject to scheduled blackouts to help restore the grid.
In Kherson, regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said 17 percent of customers now had power. Other districts would be connected in coming days.
Amid the power outages, the Ukrainian government, along with volunteers, evacuated some elderly people from the southern city.
“We need to get as many people out as possible,” said Viktor Mironov, a volunteer. “There is no electricity, water and food. Help is needed. Hospitals need help, they need medicine. We need to do as much as we can so our people can have a warm place to stay and be provided with all the necessities.”
Zelenskyy has issued constant warnings to consumers to conserve power, as have utility officials.
Sergey Kovalenko, chief operating officer of YASNO, which provides energy to Kyiv, said on Saturday evening the situation in the city has improved but remained “quite difficult”.
Zelenskyy criticised Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko, a former professional boxer, hit back at Zelenskyy, saying the criticism was out of place amid Russia’s military campaign.
“That is senseless,” Klitschko said.