Zelenskyy warns that Russia will launch more missile attacks on Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned of new Russian missile attacks on his country, urging defense forces and citizens to be prepared to endure another week of strain on the power grid.

Sunday’s warning came as snow was falling in Kyiv and temperatures hovered around freezing with fog forecast overnight.

City authorities said workers were close to completing restoration of electricity, water and heating, but high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed. Millions in and around Kyiv were dealing with disruptions caused by waves of Russian airstrikes.

“We understand that the terrorists are planning new attacks. We know for sure,” Zelenskyy said in his late-night video address. “And as long as they have missiles, unfortunately, they won’t calm down.”

Zelenskyy said next week could be as difficult as the week before, when attacks on electrical infrastructure subjected Ukrainians to the sharpest power outages since the invasion by Russian troops in February.

“Our defense forces are preparing. The whole country is preparing,” she said. “We have solved all the scenarios, even 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 attack civilians. The Kremlin said on Thursday that Kyiv could “end the suffering” of its population by complying with Russia’s demands.

Russia annexed swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in September, and President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow’s territorial claims are non-negotiable. After the annexation, Zelenskyy said that he would not negotiate with Moscow and stressed that Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be negotiated.

tense fronts

Sunday was relatively quiet with no major attacks in Kyiv or other big cities. Ukraine’s army central command said Russian forces launched four missile strikes and fired multiple times at civilian objects in the Dnipropetrovsk region.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a think tank that has been closely monitoring events in Ukraine, said reports from both sides indicated that heavy rain and mud have had an effect, along with a broader freeze expected along the front lines in the coming days.

ISW said Russian forces were digging in further east of the city of Kherson, from where Ukrainian forces drove 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 surface-to-air missile systems to positions closer to the city.

Zelenskyy said that the situation remains tense along the front lines in various parts of the country.

“The most difficult is in the Donetsk region, as has been the case in the previous weeks,” he said.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that Russian troops had shelled a dozen villages in Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

The Antonivsky Bridge, a key link across the Dnieper River, was destroyed as Russian forces withdrew from Kherson. [Bernat Armangue/ AP]

Moscow has attacked vital infrastructure in recent weeks through waves of airstrikes that have led to widespread power outages and civilian deaths.

The news attacks last Wednesday caused the worst damage so far in the nine months of conflict, leaving millions of people without electricity, water or heat, as temperatures fell below 0C (32F).

‘colossal’ damage

Grid operator Ukrenergo, describing the damage to power generating facilities as “colossal”, said cold weather is gradually increasing power needs as workers rush to repair damaged power facilities.

Power producers still cannot resume full power supplies after Russian missile attacks on Wednesday and must conserve power by imposing blackouts, he said.

“The consumption restriction regime is still in place due to a capacity deficit, which is currently around 20 percent,” Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

Zelenskyy said on Sunday emergency and utility services teams were working around the clock to provide power, with the situation “under control” although 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 electricity. Other districts would be connected in the next few days.

Amid power outages, the Ukrainian government, together 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 everything we can so that our people can have a warm place to stay and be provided with all the necessities.”

Zelenskyy has issued constant warnings to consumers to save energy, as have utility officials.

Sergey Kovalenko, chief operating officer of YASNO, which provides power to Kyiv, said late Saturday that the situation in the city has improved but remains “quite difficult.”

Zelenskyy criticized Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko, a former professional boxer, responded to Zelenskyy, saying the criticism was misplaced amid Russia’s military campaign.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Klitschko said.

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