Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukrainians ran to repair the damage and resume services on Saturday, a day after one of Russia’s worst missile attacks on infrastructure killed at least five people and cut power and water in many of the country’s key cities .
With Ukrainians already nervous about more strikes, fresh explosions rang out over the port city of Odessa early on Saturday, and a few hours later air raid alarms sounded across the country. In the morning, the Ukrainian general command warned that military jets are taking off from neighboring Belarus and that all of Ukraine is a potential target.
Early reports from Ukrainian officials on Saturday said incoming missiles had been intercepted. The country’s southern military command said two incoming Russian missiles were intercepted by its air defenses in Odessa and caused no casualties. No further damage was reported on Saturday, although Russian artillery struck again in the southern city of Kherson, causing more civilian casualties.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday it attacked Ukrainian defense contractors and power plants in a massive attack using “long-range precision weapons from the air and at sea” on Friday.
The statement added that some of the Russian missiles were “deliberately launched decoys” that forced Ukraine to expend significant resources to repel the attacks and claimed that the failure of Ukraine’s air defenses caused the civilian damage.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Saturday that the Russians fired 98 rockets and 65 rockets fired from multiple-missile systems targeting civil and energy infrastructure targets in the barrage. The military had previously put the number at 76 missiles, and while it wasn’t immediately clear why the count changed, information is often incomplete in the first hours after an attack.
Ukrainian officials said 60 rockets were launched before they could reach their targets, but 14 regions lost power and running water in the hours after the attacks. The scale of the outages has affected millions. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, remained without power and water as of Saturday night, and half of the greater Kyiv metropolitan area was also without power, officials said.
In the southern city of Kryvyi Rih, rescue workers pulled the body of an 18-month-old boy from the rubble of a house in the early hours of Saturday, bringing the death toll from a Russian missile attack the previous day to four. When rockets hit a power plant in the city on Friday, cutting off the city’s electricity, a rocket also hit an apartment building. The toddler’s parents and a 64-year-old woman were killed in the strike, which also injured 13 others. One of the injured is said to have died on Saturday evening.
Since Ukraine’s managed to push back Russian forces and regain territory on the battlefields in eastern and southern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow has turned to a strategy of attacking power plants and utilities to increase pressure on the Ukrainian government to while causing increased suffering among the Ukrainian civilian population.
Ukrainians have reacted with defiance, and the government has tried to boost morale by repairing the damage as quickly as possible.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday workers had started repairs before the air alert warnings were lifted. “Our power engineers and repair crews have already started work during the air alert and are doing everything possible to restore generation and supply,” he said in his late night address to the nation. “It takes time. But it will be done.”
He urged local authorities to work with businesses to create additional neighborhood gathering points, dubbed “invincibility centers,” where people can gather to stay warm, share news and charge their phones. Powered by generators or backup power supplies, the centers have been set up in administration buildings, in shopping malls and in tents on streets across the country to provide some respite for people living in freezing temperatures without heat or electricity.
The city of Kherson, which has come under repeated Russian rocket and shell fire since it was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last month after Russian forces withdrew across the Dnipro River, has been hit again in recent days, said Halyna Luhova, the head of the municipal military administration on Saturday.
“Part of the population is left without electricity, then our specialists restore it,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process: part is restored, then part is damaged again.”
The withdrawal of Russian troops destroyed much of the city of Kherson’s energy and utility systems, but the Ukrainian administration has already restored electricity to most areas, and 70 to 80 percent of the population has running water and heating, she said. Still, up to 10,000 people live in an area near the riverbank under constant attack without electricity, heating or water, she said. “The situation there is extremely serious,” she said.
The Kyiv metro was running again on Saturday morning, Mayor Ivan Klitschko said on the social media app Telegram. The water was back and power was restored to much of the city.
“The water supply has been restored for all residents of the capital,” he said. “Half of Kyiv residents already have heating, and we are working to restore it for all residents of the city. Two-thirds of Kiev’s residents are currently supplied with electricity.”
In a particularly defiant gesture, the mayor also announced on Facebook the reopening of a glass-bottom pedestrian bridge in the city that had been damaged by rocket attacks in October.
Oleksandr Chubko contributed to reporting from Kherson.