By Dan Peleschuk and Simon Lewis
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the UN Security Council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in.
Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people, forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places.
“Today is just one day, but we have received 70 missiles. That’s the Russian formula of terror. This is all against our energy infrastructure,” Zelenskiy said via video link to the council chamber. “Hospitals, schools, transportation, residential districts all suffered.”
Ukraine was waiting to see “a very firm reaction” to Wednesday’s air strikes from the world, he added.
The council is unlikely to take any action in response to the appeal since Russia is a member with veto power.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clearly weaponising winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people.”
The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she added.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, responded by complaining that it was against council rules for Zelenskiy to appear via video, and rejected what he called “reckless threats and ultimatums” by Ukraine and its supporters in the West.
Nebenzya said damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure was caused by missiles fired by Ukrainian air defense systems that crashed into civilian areas after being fired at Russia’s missiles, and called on the West to stop providing Kyiv with air defense missiles.
‘SHE IS ALIVE’
Kyiv was one of the main targets of Wednesday’s missile strikes. “Today we had three hits on high-rise apartment buildings. Unfortunately 10 people died,” said Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky. Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Explosions rocked the Ukrainian capital as Russian missiles bore down and Ukrainian air defense rockets were fired in efforts to intercept them.
“Our little one was sleeping. Two years old. She was sleeping, she got covered. She is alive, thanks be to God,” said a man who gave his name as Fyodr, dragging a suitcase as he walked away from a smouldering apartment building that was hit in Kyiv.
The entire Kyiv region, where over 3 million people live, lost electricity and running water, Kyiv’s governor said. Much of Ukraine suffered similar problems and some regions implemented emergency blackouts to help conserve energy and carry out repairs.
Zelenskiy said power and other services were being reconnected in more areas. “Energy specialists, municipal workers, emergency crews are working around the clock,” he said in a video address.
The temperature was minus 3.4 Celsius (26 Fahrenheit) in Kyiv early on Thursday and 70% of the city remained in blackout, the mayor said.
Since October, Russia has acknowledged targeting Ukraine’s civilian energy grid far from front lines as a Ukrainian counteroffensive has recaptured territory from Russian forces in the east and south.
Moscow says the aim of its missile strikes is to weaken Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate. Kyiv says the attacks on infrastructure amount to war crimes, deliberately intended to harm civilians and break the national will.
That will not happen, Zelenskiy vowed in a video address posted on the Telegram messaging app: “We’ll renew everything and get through all of this because we are an unbreakable people.”
FIGHTING GOES ON
Ground battles continue to rage in the east, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by Moscow’s proxies since 2014.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces tried again to advance on their main targets in Donetsk region – Bakhmut and Avdiivka. Russian forces shelled both areas and used incendiary devices to set Ukrainian positions ablaze with only limited success, the general staff said.
Among those fighting the Russians in Bakhmut are a unit of Chechen fighters, who hope a Ukrainian victory could spark a political crisis in Russia and bring down the powerful pro-Moscow leader of Chechnya.
“We’re not fighting just for the sake of fighting. We want to achieve freedom and independence for our nations,” said a fighter using the nom-de-guerre Maga.
Further south, Russian forces were digging in on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, the general staff said, shelling areas on the west bank including the town of Kherson, which was recently reclaimed by Ukrainian forces.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Moscow says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to protect Russian speakers in what Putin calls an artificial state carved out of Russia. Ukraine and the West call the invasion an unprovoked land grab.
Western responses have included billions of dollars worth of financial aid and state-of-the-art military hardware for Kyiv and waves of punitive sanctions on Russia.
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv, Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg; Writing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Shri Navaratnam and William Mallard)