President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that Russia had damaged about a third of Ukraine’s power stations in the previous week as Moscow continued to pound infrastructure with missiles in what Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of conducting as a campaign of intimidation against civilians.
Three people were killed when missiles hit power stations in Kyiv, the country’s capital, as well as power outages and disruptions to water supply in Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Kryvyi Rih in the south and Zhytomyr in the west. In Mykolaiv, Ukraine, a man was killed in his shattered apartment.
“The situation is critical now across the country … The whole country needs to prepare for electricity, water and heating outages,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, told Ukrainian television.
Russia has openly acknowledged targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone strikes since the start of last week, in what President Vladimir Putin said was legitimate retaliation for a blast on a bridge.
Kyiv and the West say intentionally attacking civilian infrastructure is a war crime, and the attacks, aimed at leaving Ukrainians with no heat and power as winter arrives, are Putin’s latest tactic to escalate a war his forces are losing.
In a rare acknowledgement of the difficulties Russian forces are facing, their new commander Sergei Surovikin on Tuesday described the military situation in Ukraine as “tense”, especially around the occupied southern city of Kherson.
“The enemy continually attempts to attack the positions of Russian troops,” he told state-owned Rossiya 24 television news channel.
The Russian-installed chief of the Kherson region said some civilians from four towns would be evacuated, citing what he said was the risk of an attack by Kyiv’s forces.
In Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, Reuters heard three explosions in the early hours of Tuesday. A missile completely destroyed one wing of a building in the downtown area, leaving a massive crater. A fire crew was seen pulling the dead body of a man from the rubble.
The Russians “probably get pleasure from this,” said Oleksandr, the owner of a nearby flower shop.
Zelenskyy said Russia was continuing to try to terrorize and kill Ukrainian civilians.
“Since Oct. 10, 30% of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed, causing massive blackouts across the country,” he wrote on Twitter.
General Surovikin, Moscow’s new overall commander in Ukraine, has been nicknamed “General Armageddon” in Russian media after serving in Syria and Chechnya, where his forces pounded cities to rubble in a brutal but effective scorched earth policy against its foes.
His appointment was quickly followed on Oct. 10 by the biggest wave of missile strikes against Ukraine since the start of the war.
Putin cast those strikes as revenge for an explosion that damaged Russia’s bridge to Crimea – the peninsula Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for that attack but celebrated the destruction of what it considers a military target used to transport arms and troops.
British Armed Forces minister James Heappey told BBC Radio that Surovikin was pursuing a cruel and pointless strategy that he said would fail in its aim of trying to “break the will of the Ukrainian people”.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that the four Ukrainian regions it claims to have annexed were under the protection of its nuclear arsenal.
The statement comes as both NATO and Russia prepare to hold annual military exercises to test the readiness of their nuclear weapons forces. Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday two of its nuclear-capable Tu-95MS strategic bombers had conducted a flight of more than 12 hours over the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.
Putin has previously said he is prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.”