A barrage of more than 80 Russian missiles and a smaller number of detonating drones hit residential buildings and critical infrastructure across Ukraine, killing six people and leaving hundreds of thousands without heating or electricity.
The largest such attack in three weeks also endangered Europe’s largest nuclear power plant by taking it off the grid for hours before being reconnected. Because nuclear power plants need constant power to run cooling systems to prevent a meltdown, the latest threat to the Zaporizhzhia plant once again raised the specter of nuclear catastrophe.
Air raid sirens blared all night as attacks targeted much of the country, including western Ukraine, which is far from the front lines. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the attack, which took place while many people were asleep, was an attempt by Moscow “to intimidate Ukrainians again”.
Russia’s defense ministry said the attacks were in retaliation for a recent raid on western Russia’s Bryansk region by what Moscow claimed were Ukrainian saboteurs. It claimed to have hit all intended targets, destroyed drone bases, disrupted railways and damaged facilities that make and repair weapons.
Ukraine denied the raid claim and warned Moscow could use the allegations to ramp up its own attacks.
Nearly half of Kiev’s households were without heating, as were many in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where water was also shut off on a day when outside temperatures were expected to drop to around freezing, local authorities said. officials.
About 150,000 households were without power in Ukraine’s northwestern Zhytomyr region. Emergency power outages occurred in the southern port of Odessa due to damaged power lines.
“The occupiers can only terrorize civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them. They will not shirk responsibility for everything they have done,” Zelenskyy said, describing the strikes that hit infrastructure and residential buildings in 10 regions.
Moscow confirmed that it had used hypersonic Kinzhal — Russian for dagger — missiles in Thursday’s attack. Ukrainian officials said it was the first time they had faced so many weapons, which there is no way for Ukraine to shoot down.
Defense and military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Al Jazeera from Moscow that the Russian attacks were strategically targeting Ukraine’s power grid.
“They were called retaliatory attacks, but it is more or less the same thing that has been going on for a few months this winter by Russia attacking the Ukrainian power grid in the hope that it would go down and power could destroy the Ukrainian leadership and people. soften. that they would agree to a ceasefire that will stop these attacks,” Felgenhauer said.
“These attacks are spectacular. Hypersonic missiles were deployed, but the strategic objective was not achieved. The electricity grid in Ukraine continues to work more or less despite all the attacks and Ukraine does not seem to be showing any desire at the moment to agree on Russian terms for a ceasefire.”
Viktor Bukhta, a 57-year-old resident of Kiev’s Sviatoshynskyi district, where officials say three people were injured, said a rocket had landed nearby in the early morning.
“We went into the garden. People got hurt,” he said. “Then the cars caught fire. We tried to put them out with car fire extinguishers. And I got a little burned.”
The dangers of nuclear power plants
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said he was “surprised at the complacency” of members of the organization he heads, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), regarding the dangers facing the Zaporizhzhia plant .
“What are we doing to prevent this? We are the IAEA. We are supposed to care about nuclear safety,” director-general Rafael Grossi told the agency’s board of directors on Thursday, according to a statement released by the organization.
“Every time we throw a dice,” he said. “And if we allow this over and over again, our luck will one day run out.”
The agency has placed teams of experts at all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to reduce the risk of accidents. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that the attack had “no military purpose, only Russian barbarism”.
Smoke could be seen billowing from a facility in Kiev’s Holosiivskyi district, and police closed off all roads leading to it.
Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said three men and two women were killed in the western region of Lviv after a rocket hit a residential area. Three buildings were destroyed by fire and rescuers combed through the rubble looking for more possible victims, he said.
A sixth person was killed and two others injured in multiple attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk region targeting energy infrastructure and industrial facilities, Governor Serhii Lysak said.
Apart from the hail of rockets, Russian shelling from Wednesday to Thursday killed six other civilians, Ukrainian officials said, including three people at a bus stop in Kherson.