Friday, December 9, 2022

Ukraine curbs power usage after Russia attacks energy plants

Ukraine curbs power usage after Russia attacks energy plants

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine is restricting electricity usage nationwide on Thursday for the first time since Russia's invasion following a barrage of missile and drone attacks destroyed some power plants just before the winter sets in.

Power supply will be restricted between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., government officials and the grid operator Ukrenergo said, and temporary blackouts were possible if people did not minimise their use of electricity, a presidential aide said.

"We do not exclude that with the onset of cold weather we will be asking for your help even more frequently", Ukrenergo said, referring to the restriction that is limited to Thursday.

Russia has intensified its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine's power and water infrastructure in recent days.

"There is new damage to critical infrastructure. Three energy facilities were destroyed by the enemy today," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his Wednesday night video address.

"We are preparing for all kinds of scenarios in view of the winter season. We assume that Russian terror will be directed at energy facilities until, with the help of partners, we are able to shoot down 100% of enemy missiles and drones," said Zelenskiy, who earlier in the week said a third power stations had been hit by Russian air strikes.

Zelenskiy was due to address an EU summit later on Thursday. Leaders of the 27 member states will discuss options for more support to Ukraine, including energy equipment, helping restore power supply and long-term financing to rebuild.

The mayor of the western city of Lviv said it would take months to repair damaged power substations.

Ukraine had shot down a total of 233 Iranian-made drones used by Russia, including 21 on Wednesday, Zelenskiy said.

Reuters witnesses said five drones hit the southern city of Mykolaiv on Thursday, but it was unclear where they had exploded or how much damage had been done.

Ukraine accuses Russia of using Iran-made Shahed-136 "kamikaze drones", which fly to their target and detonate. Iran denies supplying them and the Kremlin has denied using them.

The United States, Britain and France raised the issue of Iran's alleged transfer of drones to Russia at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Russia's deputy UN Ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told reporters Russia would reassess its cooperation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his staff if Guterres sends experts to Ukraine to inspect downed drones that Ukraine and the West assert were made in Iran.

Polyanskiy said he was not optimistic about reaching agreement with Guterres and other UN officials in negotiations to extend and expand a July 22 deal that led to the resumption of Ukraine Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports. The pact could expire next month.

KHERSON BATTLE LOOMS

In Kherson, the only regional capital Russian forces have captured since their invasion eight months ago, the Russian-appointed administration began an evacuation.

Images of people using boats to flee the strategic southern city were broadcast by Russian state TV, which portrayed the exodus on the Dnipro river as an attempt to evacuate civilians before it became a combat zone. About 50,000 to 60,000 people would be moved out in the next six days, said Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed chief of Kherson.

Staff at Kherson's Russian-backed administration were also being relocated to the eastern side of the Dnipro, Saldo said, although he said Russia had the resources to hold the city and even counter-attack if necessary.

Kherson is arguably the most strategically important of four regions Russia said it had annexed in recent weeks. It controls the only land route to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnipro, the 2,200 km-long (1,367-mile) river that bisects Ukraine.

An early Thursday Ukrainian military update on the Kherson region said 43 Russian servicemen had been killed and six tanks and other equipment destroyed.

In eastern Ukraine bordering Russia, Moscow's forces focused their main attempt to advance on the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Bakhmut is the focus of Russia's slow advance through the Donetsk region. Forces trained tank and artillery fire on at least 10 towns in the area, including Bakhmut, Soledar and Bilohorivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded an all-Russia war effort and declared martial law on Wednesday in areas of Ukraine occupied by his forces.

A package of moves, including boosting the security powers of all of Russia's regional governors, was the latest intensification of the war by Putin to counter a series of defeats at the hands of Ukrainian forces since the beginning of September.

It was far from clear, however, how fast or how effectively the new measures might bolster Russia's military position. The US State Department said Russia was resorting to "desperate tactics". A Ukrainian official said it would change nothing.

Meanwhile, the United States imposed new sanctions on Russia, targeting a network that Washington accused of procuring military and dual-use technologies from US manufacturers and supplying them to Russian users.