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Russia strikes again at Ukraine's energy system, but damage is limited

Pete Kiehart for NPR
Civilians take shelter in Akademmistechko Metro during an air alert on Monday in Kyiv, Ukraine. Russia renewed its missile attacks across Ukraine on Monday.

Updated December 5, 2022 at 12:16 PM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — A new wave of Russian airstrikes Monday knocked out electricity and water in a number of Ukrainian cities where residents are coping with sub-freezing temperatures, Ukrainian officials said.

However, the damage was substantially less than in the last big Russian attack, on Nov. 23, or some of the other air assaults by Russia against the power grid over the past two months.

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"Air defense shot down most of the missiles. Energy workers have already started to restore the electricity power. Our people never give up," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a brief video message shortly after the air raid sirens went silent and Ukrainian officials gave the all clear.

Ukraine's Air Force said it shot down more than 60 of just over 70 missiles fired by Russia.

If accurate, this figure would be even higher than usual. Ukraine often reports that it shoots down about two-thirds to three-quarters of incoming Russia missiles.

Also, the neighboring country of Moldova said a missile landed on its territory, the country's Interior Ministry wrote in a Facebook post.

Pete Kiehart for NPR
Soldiers take shelter in Lva Tolstoho Metro during an air alert on in Kyiv on Monday. Russia renewed its missile attacks across Ukraine on Monday.
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Moldova, which is on the southwest border of Ukraine, did not immediately say whose missile it was. The possibilities include a Russian missile that veered off course, or a Ukrainian missile that was trying to take down the incoming Russian fire.

In Russia, media reports said two Russian military bases suffered explosions. One took place at the Engels-2 air base near the southwestern city of Saratov, several hundred miles inside Russia.

There have been periodic attacks on military facilities in Russia, but it's highly unusual for one to take place so deep inside Russian territory. Ukraine did not comment, sticking to its existing policy of not speaking publicly when there are apparent attacks in Russia.

Carol Guzy for NPR
A storefront in Drohobych, Ukraine, during a power outage on Nov. 24. Russian shelling targeting electrical infrastructure across Ukraine resulted in blackouts in many cities.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, a senior official in Zelenskyy's administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on the Telegram messaging app that a private home was hit in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, killing two people and wounding two more.

Also in the south, a strike on the port city of Odesa caused a large fire and the water supply was cut off.

Widespread power outages were reported in several places, including the northeastern region of Sumy.

There were no reports of missile strikes in the capital Kyiv, though many residents took shelter in the city's subway system for a couple of hours after the air raid sirens first sounded in the afternoon.

Russia has been unleashing airstrikes on Ukraine's power systems since Oct. 10 in an effort to cut off electricity as the country heads into winter.

Pete Kiehart for NPR
Civilians take shelter in Akademmistechko Metro during an air alert in Kyiv on Monday. Russia renewed its missile attacks across Ukraine on Monday.

The temperature is below freezing in much of the country — it was 17 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday morning in Kyiv and rose only to 23 degrees in the afternoon.

The last nationwide attack 12 days ago caused significant damage to the electricity grid, knocking out power in most major cities, including Kyiv. The blackouts caused heating and water to be cut for a day or more in some places.

Ukrainian power companies have been working to restore power, and they say the country is producing about 70% of the energy it needs.

That means power cuts are still in effect nationwide. That typically involves at least one power outage a day of four hours or so, but sometimes there can be two or three such outages.

Ukraine is scrambling to prepare for the winter. Zelenskyy says his government has set up 4,000 centers to take care of civilians if there are extended power cuts.

He calls them "points of invincibility," saying they will provide heat, water, phone charging and internet access. Many are in schools and government buildings.

Pete Kiehart for NPR
Civilians take shelter in Palats Sportu Metro during an air alert in Kyiv on Monday.

Russian troops have been losing ground on the battlefield the past few months. But Russia is betting it can break Ukrainian resolve by making life for civilians unbearable this winter.

NATO countries have responded by stepping up assistance for Ukraine's power systems.

Ukrainians say the assistance can't get here soon enough. Some equipment, such as transformers, are extremely hard to get.

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