Ukraine struggles to restore power in war’s first winter

Ukrenergo, which oversees Ukraine’s national power grid, said 50 per cent of demand was not being met as of 7pm on Thursday Kyiv time.

In the capital Kyiv, a city of 3 million, 60 per cent of residents were without power amid temperatures well below freezing, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said.

Kyiv’s city centre is in darkness after Russian missile attacks took out the power grid.Credit:AP

“We understand that missile strikes like this could happen again. We have to be ready for any developments,” he added, according to the Kyiv city council.

Authorities have set up “invincibility centres”, where people can charge phones, warm up and get hot drinks.

“It is the second day we are without power and food. More than 60 children are waiting for food and we cannot prepare anything unless power gets fixed,” said a woman at one such centre in Kyiv.

Russia’s latest barrage killed 11 people and shut down all of Ukraine’s nuclear plants for the first time in 40 years.

Zelensky told the Financial Times that this week’s strikes had created a situation not seen for 80 or 90 years – “a country on the European continent where there was totally no light”.

By early evening, officials said a reactor at one nuclear plant, Khmelnytskyi, had been reconnected to the grid.

The vast Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-held territory was reconnected on Thursday, Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom said.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was Kyiv’s fault Ukrainians were suffering because it refused to yield to Moscow’s demands, which he did not spell out. Ukraine says it will only stop fighting when all Russian forces have left.

Nuclear officials say interruptions in power can disrupt cooling systems and cause an atomic disaster.

More than 15,000 people have gone missing during the war in Ukraine, an official in the Kyiv office of the Hague-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) said.

The ICMP’s program director for Europe, Matthew Holliday, said it was unclear how many people had been forcibly transferred, were being held in detention in Russia, were alive and separated from family members or had died and been buried in makeshift graves.

Earlier on Friday (AEDT), Russia and Ukraine exchanges about 100 prisoners of war, officials in Kyiv and Moscow said.

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Russia’s Defence Ministry said Ukraine had released 50 Russian soldiers who had been captured.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said on Telegram that Ukraine received 48 soldiers and two officers, among them marines, infantrymen, border guards and members of the territorial defence,

“We have managed to bring back 19 defenders of Mariupol … as well as 15 prisoners [of war] from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and seven from Zmiiny Island,” Yermak said.

Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed head of the part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region that is under Russian control, said earlier that a prisoner swap with Kyiv was taking place, involving 50 prisoners on each side.

Kyiv and Moscow have so far swapped over 1000 prisoners of war since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in February.

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Separately in Kyiv, members of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theatre tearfully bid farewell to 26-year-old ballet dancer Vadym Khlupianets who was killed fighting Russian troops.

Moscow shifted to the tactic of striking Ukraine’s infrastructure after Kyiv inflicted battlefield defeats on Russian forces since September.

The war’s first winter will now test whether Ukraine can press on with its campaign to recapture territory, or whether Russia’s commanders can halt Kyiv’s momentum.

Zelensky said that in some areas Ukrainian troops were preparing to advance but gave no details.

Having retreated, Russia has a far shorter line to defend to hold on to seized lands, with more than a third of the front now blocked off by the Dnipro River.

Russia has pursued an offensive of its own along the front line west of the city of Donetsk, held by Moscow’s proxies since 2014.

Ukraine said Russian forces tried again to advance on their main targets, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, with limited success.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.

Reuters

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