Ukrainians cut power consumption and some were without running water on Thursday to ease pressure on the grid and allow repairs to infrastructure destroyed by Russian airstrikes, as kyiv forces advanced toward the city of Kherson.
Although Ukraine is conducting successful counteroffensives against Russian forces in the east and south, it is struggling to protect power generation facilities and other public services from Russian missile and drone attacks that appear designed to disrupt and demoralize as the boreal winter approaches.
Ukrainians tried to use less energy on Thursday, after the government imposed nationwide electricity restrictions for the first time since Russia’s invasion on February 24, following a barrage of attacks that President Volodymyr Zelensky said has affected to a third of power plants.
Under the new energy-saving regime, power supply was restricted throughout Ukraine on Thursday between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.
“The Russians have invaded our country, there is a lot of anger against the Russian leadership and the Russian people,” Mikhaylo Holovnenko, a kyiv resident, told Reuters. “But we are prepared for blackouts. We have candles, charged power banks. Ukraine is charged to win.”
Some kyiv grocery stores said they had noticed people starting to buy more 5-liter bottles of mineral water to prepare for potential water shortages.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using energy and starvation as weapons. “Scorched earth tactics will not help Russia win the war. They will only strengthen the unity and determination of Ukraine and its partners,” Scholz told the German parliament.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said Scholz was the last person who should make such accusations. “The German chancellor has clearly forgotten the Nazi past of his country and the 30 million Soviets who were killed or starved to death during the war,” he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that it was attacking Ukrainian energy infrastructure again, a strategy it has intensified since the appointment this month of Sergei Surovikin – dubbed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media because of his alleged rudeness – as commander of what Moscow qualifies as its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Reuters journalists said five drones struck the southern port city of Mikolaiv on Thursday, but it was not clear where.
Herman Halushchenko, Minister of Energy, told Ukrainian television that Russia has carried out more than 300 airstrikes against Ukrainian energy facilities since October 10. He also indicated that the government seeks a 20% reduction in energy use as a result.
“We see a voluntary decrease (in electricity consumption). But when it is not enough, we are forced to make forced cuts,” he said.
Cities such as the capital kyiv and Kharkiv have announced restrictions on the use of public transport with electric motors, such as trolleybuses, and reduced the frequency of metro convoys.
The entire northeastern region of Sumy, which borders Russia, said it would spend the entire day – from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. local time – without running water, electric transport or public lighting.
“We need time to restore power plants, we need a breather for our consumers,” Volodimir Kudrytskyi, head of the Ukrenergo power grid operator, told Ukrainian television.
Zelensky explained in a video address Wednesday night that the power problems will take time to resolve.
“We assume that Russian terror will target energy facilities until, with the help of partners, we are able to shoot down 100% of enemy missiles and drones,” he said.
Zelensky was scheduled to speak at a European Union summit on Thursday. Leaders of the 27 member states will discuss options for further aid to Ukraine, including power equipment, help to restore power supply and long-term financing for reconstruction.
Much of the destruction has been caused by Russian drones, which Ukraine and the West say are Iranian-made, something Tehran denies.
EU members have agreed to new measures against Iran over its supply of drones to Russia, according to the bloc’s Czech presidency.
On the ground, the Ukrainian military was still trying to press on to the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital Russian forces have captured since they began their invasion eight months ago.
The Russian-appointed administration on Wednesday urged civilians to leave the city, control of which gives Russia a land route to Crimea, which it seized in 2014, and to the mouth of the Dnieper river.