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Ukraine warns of prolonged power cuts after Russian missiles hit grid

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a building destroyed in Kryvyi Rih by the Russian attack. (Photo by AP)

Ukraine has warned of more blackouts and power cuts across the country as workers struggle to restore power to hospitals, heating systems and other infrastructure in major cities after Russian attacks targeted the power grid.

Rocket attacks on Friday plunged several Ukrainian cities into darkness, cutting off water and heat and forcing people out in the freezing cold.

Vitali Klitschko, mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, announced early Saturday that the city's subway system had been restarted and water restored to all residents, a day after Russian missile attacks on critical infrastructure.

He announced that heating has returned to half of the city and electricity restored to two-thirds of the residents.

He also said the emergency shutdown program is being implemented because the electricity deficit “is significant.”

Ukraine's national energy supplier said the country's system had lost more than half its capacity after the Russian attacks.

Ukrenergo warned that due to the severity of the damage, it will take longer than before to restore resources.

It also announced that priority will be given to critical infrastructure and hospitals, water supply facilities, heat supply facilities and sewage treatment plants.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the bombings "barbaric," saying that, “These cruel, inhumane attacks aim to increase human suffering and deprive Ukrainian people.”

On Friday, Russia fired 74 missiles — mostly cruise missiles — 60 of which were shot down by air defenses, according to the Ukrainian military.

Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, said that these attacks caused the capital city of Kiev and 14 regions to be affected by electricity and water cuts.

He also called for increased Western pressure on the Kremlin and more air defense systems.

“Our power engineers and repair crews have already started working during the air alert and are doing everything possible to restore generation and supply. It takes time. But it will be (done),” Zelensky said.

In the central city of Kryvyi Rih, where Zelensky was born, airstrikes hit a residential building, killing a 64-year-old woman and a young couple.

Oleksandr Starukh, head of the frontline region of Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe's largest nuclear power plant, said his territory had been targeted by more than a dozen Russian missiles.

With about half of Ukraine's energy grid damaged, the national operator warned of emergency blackouts on Friday.

Deadly Ukrainian attacks

In Bakhmut, which is under Ukrainian control, some residents received wood-burning stoves distributed by volunteers, some news sources said.

In the south, new Russian shelling in Kherson, recently retaken by Ukraine, killed one and wounded three others.

Kherson has been under constant Russian shelling since the withdrawal of Russian forces in November and a power outage in the city earlier this week.

In the Russian-held region of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Moscow-based officials said shelling by Ukrainian forces had left eight dead and 23 wounded.

Moscow says the attack on Ukrainian infrastructure is in response to an explosion at the Kerch Bridge that connects the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula.

Putin sounds out military commanders on Ukraine

The Kremlin announced on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his visit to the operation's headquarters, asked the commanders of his armed forces about how to continue the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

Putin presided over the meeting with dozen of people at a round table, alongside Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Army Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Since the appointment in October of Air Force General Sergei Surovikin to lead the military campaign, Russian ground forces have focused more on defense than attack, while waves of air strikes continue.

News sources have reported that Putin has received proposals from a number of military commanders.

"We will listen to the commanders in each operational direction, and I would like to hear your proposals on our immediate and medium-term actions," Putin said.

Russia's war on Ukraine started in late February with Moscow saying that it was aimed at defending the pro-Russian population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev.

Ever since the beginning of the war, Ukraine's Western allies, led by the US, have been pumping the ex-Soviet Republic with advanced weapons and slapping Russia with sanctions, steps Moscow says will only prolong the conflict.

So far during the military conflict, Moscow has seized around a fifth of Ukraine's expanse in its south and east. It has conditioned negotiations on a possible end to the military campaign on Ukraine's recognition of Russian rule over the seized territories.

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