Russia rained down volleys of missiles across Ukraine on Wednesday, hitting infrastructure in the capital Kyiv and other cities as Moscow pursued its campaign to knock out Ukraine’s power and heat ahead of the looming winter.
Air raid sirens blared in a countrywide alert. Explosions could be heard on the outskirts of Kyiv, where the mayor said infrastructure had been hit, giving no immediate further details. Blasts were also reported in other cities. Information about casualties was not immediately available.
Since October, Russia has repeatedly targeted electric power and heating infrastructure. Moscow says the aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says the intentional strikes on civilian infrastructure constitute a war crime.
In an overnight video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced special “invincibility centres” would be set up around Ukraine to provide electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, free of charge and around the clock.
Russian attacks have knocked out power for long periods for up to 10 million consumers at a time. Ukraine’s national power grid operator said before Wednesday’s attacks that more blackouts were necessary across the country.
“If massive Russian strikes happen again and it’s clear power will not be restored for hours, the ‘invincibility centres’ will go into action with all key services,” Zelenskiy said.
With the first snow of the winter falling, authorities have warned of power cuts that could affect millions of people.
Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities follow a series of battlefield setbacks that have included a retreat of its forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnipro River that bisects the country.
A week after the city was retaken by Ukrainian forces, residents in Kherson were tearing down Russian propaganda billboards and replacing them with pro-Ukrainian signs.
“The moment our soldiers entered, these posters were printed and handed over to us. We found workers to install the posters, and we clean up the advertisement off as quickly as possible,” said Antonina Dobrozhenska, who works at the government’s communications department.
Russia has been striking Ukraine with expensive long-range cruise missiles and with cheap Iranian-made drones. Britain’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday there had been no public reports of Russia using Iranian one-way attack drones since around Nov. 17, which it said was a sign Moscow might be running out of them, and would try to get more.
Russian missiles hit a maternity hospital in the Zaporizhzhia region killing a baby, the regional governor said on the Telegram messaging service.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the report. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Battles raged 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 its proxies since 2014. The Donetsk region was the scene of fierce attacks and constant shelling over the past 24 hours, Zelenskiy said.
European officials were debating the details of a global price cap on Russian oil, a U.S.-backed proposal taken up by the G7 group of big economies and set to come into effect on Dec. 5 with the intent of curbing Moscow’s ability to fund the war.
While Western sanctions already mean Russian seaborne crude is now mostly sold in Asia, the trade still mainly involves European shippers and insurers who would be barred from transporting cargoes above the capped price. Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries were discussing the G7 proposal with the aim of reaching a common position by the end of the day.
A European diplomat said the price cap being discussed would be in the $65-70 per barrel range. Russia’s Urals crude blend already trades at around $70 a barrel, a steep discount to other benchmarks, as a result of sanctions.
The European Parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, although the move is largely symbolic as the EU does not have a framework to take practical action in response.
The World Health Organization warned this week that hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and healthcare facilities lacked fuel, water and electricity.
“Ukraine’s health system is facing its darkest days in the war so far. Having endured more than 700 attacks, it is now also a victim of the energy crisis,” Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement after visiting Ukraine.
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West call it an unprovoked, imperialist land grab.
Western responses have included financial and military aid for Kyiv – it received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) from the EU on Tuesday and is expecting $4.5 billion in U.S. aid in coming weeks – and waves of sanctions on Russia.
The BBC reported Britain is sending three helicopters to Ukraine, the first piloted aircraft it has sent since the war began. Ukraine will deploy them with Ukrainian crews trained in Britain, it said.