Blackouts worsen in Ukraine; fighting rages on many fronts

International Headlines

A Ukrainian soldier targets his mortar in the front line position near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battle against the Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Relentless Russian attacks on energy infrastructure prompted Ukrainian authorities on Friday to announce worsening blackouts around the country’s largest cities, with Kyiv’s mayor warning that the capital’s power grid is working in “emergency mode” with energy supplies down as much as 50% from pre-war levels.

Meanwhile, the Russian president sought to dispel criticism of a chaotic call-up of 300,000 reservists for service in Ukraine by ordering his defense minister to make sure they’re properly trained and equipped for battle.

In the Kyiv region, as winter looms, the latest damage to utilities will mean outages of four or more hours a day, according to Ukrenergo, the state operator of Ukraine’s high-voltage transmission lines.

But Kyiv regional Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba warned “more severe and longer shutdowns will be applied in the coming days.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said power outages were affecting about 4 million people across the country. He said last week that 30% of Ukraine’s power stations had been destroyed since Russia launched the first wave of targeted infrastructure strikes on Oct. 10.

In Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the power grid was operating in “emergency mode,” adding that he hoped Ukrenergo would find ways to address the shortage “in two to three weeks.”

The former boxing world champion also said new air defense equipment has been deployed in Kyiv to help defend itself against Russian drone and missile attacks on energy facilities.

In the Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine’s second-largest city of the same name, Gov. Oleg Syniehubov said daily one-hour power outages would begin Monday.

Officials across the war-torn country have urged people to conserve by reducing electricity consumption during peak hours and avoiding the use of high-voltage appliances.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that the thousands of reservists who were recently called up need the right training and equipment so “people feel confident when they need to go to combat.”

Shoigu told Putin that 82,000 reservists had been deployed to Ukraine, while 218,000 others were still being trained. He said there were no immediate plans to round up more, but Putin’s mobilization order left the door open for a future military call-up.

Putin’s effort to beef up the number of troops along the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line followed recent setbacks, including a Russian withdrawal from the Kharkiv region. The mobilization, however, fueled scores of protests in Russia and prompted hundreds of thousands of men to flee the country.

Activists and reports by Russian media and The Associated Press said many of the draftees were inexperienced, were told to procure basic items such as medical kits and flak jackets themselves, and did not receive training before they were sent off to fight. Some were killed within days of being called up.

Shoigu acknowledged that “problems with supplies existed in the initial stages,” but told Putin those have now been solved. Putin ordered Shoigu to propose ways to reform the ground troops and other parts of the military based on their performance in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian missile and artillery barrages pounded targets across Ukraine. Several towns across the Dnieper River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant were struck, the presidential office said. Shelling damaged dozens of residential buildings in Nikopol, and power was cut there and to thousands of families in neighboring towns.

A Russian S-300 air defense missile destroyed a three-story office building and damaged a new residential building nearby, said Mykolaiv regional governor Vitalii Kim. Russian forces have frequently used converted S-300 missiles to strike ground targets in Ukraine.

Moscow also pressed its ground advance on the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiikva after a string of setbacks in the east. The fighting has turned the entire Donetsk region into “a zone of active hostilities,” according to Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.

“Civilians who remain in the region live in constant fear without heating and electricity,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “Their enemy is not only Russian cannons but also the cold.”

A Russian takeover of Bakhmut, which has remained in Ukrainian hands throughout the war, would open the way for the Kremlin to push on to other Ukrainian strongholds in the heavily contested Donetsk region. A reinvigorated eastern offensive could also potentially stall or derail Ukraine’s push to recapture the southern city of Kherson, a gateway to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Last month, Putin illegally annexed annexed the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai reported Friday that Russian soldiers had retreated from some areas; Moscow had claimed Luhansk’s complete capture in July.

“The Russians practically destroyed some villages after they started to retreat,” Haidai said. “There are a lot of freshly mobilized Russians in the Luhansk region, but they are dying in droves.” His claim could not be independently verified.

In the Zaporizhzhia region, Kremlin-appointed officials urged residents not to switch to daylight savings time along with Kyiv and the rest of the country. “We live in the Russian Federation, and our city lives by Moscow time,” said Alexander Volga, the Russian-installed mayor of Enerhodar, where Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is located.

Russian-backed authorities in Kherson have urged civilians to evacuate ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive. Zelenskyy accused the Russians on Friday of dismantling health-care facilities in Kherson and turning the city into an area “without civilization.”

Some people fleeing Kherson have gone to Russia-occupied Crimea. At a checkpoint at the city of Dzhankoi, volunteers set up a small tent city for the refugees. They said 50 to 300 pass through each day.

“People come out to us after going through the checkpoint confused. Many do not know where to go next, how to go, which route to take,” volunteer Natalya Poltaratskaya told an Associated Press journalist, adding that the volunteers help them with food, water and route advice.

In Dzhankoi, a temporary camp has been set up in a boarding house for those who left Kherson. About 200 people live there, regional officials said.

People in Kherson were not given the choice of fleeing to areas held by Ukraine.

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