By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) -Russia pounded energy facilities across Ukraine on Thursday in its biggest missile attack for weeks, firing what Ukrainian officials saw as the first salvo in a new air campaign against the national power grid.
Power cuts were reported in five Ukrainian regions in the west, centre and east, reviving memories of multiple air strikes on critical infrastructure last winter that caused sweeping outages for millions during the bitter cold.
Officials said at least 18 people were wounded in the air strikes, including a nine-year-old girl, and a regional governor said two people were killed in separate overnight Russian shelling.
“Winter is coming. Tonight (Russia) renews missile attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure,” lawmaker Andrii Osadchuk wrote on platform X.
Grid operator Ukrenergo said it was the first Russian attack on power infrastructure in six months, and reported damage to facilities in western and central regions.
The attack caused blackouts in the Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv regions, it said.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement its attack hit military industry facilities, radio intelligence installations and centres for the training of sabotage groups. It said it struck all its targets.
Ukraine has been racing to repair infrastructure after the attacks last winter damaged nearly half its energy system and forced grid operators to impose regular rolling power cuts.
This year, Ukraine has better, Western-supplied air defences, but still has a huge challenge defending against attacks across such a big country.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, visiting the United States following the U.N. General Assembly, condemned what he called “another massive attack”.
Outlining Ukraine’s needs before a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app: “More air defence. More sanctions. More support for Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines.”
Biden was set to announce a new $325 million military aid package for Kyiv, which was expected to include a second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155-millimetre howitzer cannon.
Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, had focused its air strikes since mid-July on port and grain infrastructure, hampering efforts by Kyiv – a major global grain producer – to export food products.
Many of the attacks have also killed civilians, although Moscow denies deliberately targeting them.
Russia did not comment on the new air strikes, and says Ukraine has been attacking targets inside Russia as Kyiv presses on with a counteroffensive in the east and south against Russia’s 19-month-old invasion.
DAMAGE ACROSS UKRAINE
Ukraine said Russia had fired 43 cruise missiles at targets overnight in several waves, and that Ukrainian air defences shot down 36 of them.
Loud blasts rocked Kyiv and the surrounding region as dawn was breaking, Reuters witnesses said.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said seven people, including the nine-year-old girl, were injured in the capital. Missile debris fell in the city centre, damaging several buildings, and a Pepsi Co Inc plant in the region was damaged, the defence ministry said.
The interior ministry and regional officials reported blasts in Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskiy, Rivne, Vinnytsia, Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.
Maksym Kozytskyi, Lviv’s regional governor, said three Russian missiles hit the western city of Drohobych and that an infrastructure facility and warehouses were hit.
In a separate overnight attack, two people were killed by Russian shelling of a dormitory in the southern city of Kherson, governor Oleksandr Prokudin said.
The Ukrainian military said its forces had struck the Saky air base in Russian-occupied Crimea overnight. It gave no details but a Ukrainian intelligence source said the attack inflicted “serious damage” on equipment at the base.
An adviser to Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed head of Crimea, said none of Ukraine’s missiles had hit their target.
(Additional reporting by Anna Pruchnicka, Writing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage; editing by Philippa Fletcher, Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones)
Brought to you by www.srnnews.com