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Russia pummels Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in ‘massive’ missile attack

Firemen attend to a burning residential building after it was destroyed by a missile in a Kyiv suburb on Thursday. (Ed Ram for The Washington Post)
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KYIV, Ukraine — Explosions rocked cities across Ukraine early Thursday morning, as Russia continued its unrelenting pummeling of the country’s energy infrastructure, launching dozens of missiles and hospitalizing at least three people in the capital, Ukrainian officials said.

Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine at 6 a.m. Washington Post journalists heard the first of several explosions in Kyiv a little over an hour later. Local officials in Odessa in the south, Kharkiv in the east, Lviv in the west and other regions reported missile attacks on social media. It was not immediately clear whether the sounds of blasts were from strikes or air defenses.

“The enemy attacks Ukraine from various directions with air- and sea-based cruise missiles from strategic aircraft and ships,” Ukraine’s air force said in a statement on Telegram, calling it a “massive missile attack.”

Moscow has pounded Ukraine’s infrastructure since early October in an effort to leave the country without light, heat and water during the winter months and weaken the Ukrainians’ resolve to continue the war effort — a strategy that so far seems to have failed considerably.

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But the attacks managed to leave large parts of the country without electricity, if only temporarily. Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi reported that 90 percent of his city was without electricity after a series of explosions. Odessa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said that missiles had struck “energy infrastructure” and that blackouts were occurring across the region.

Maksym Kozytskyi, Lviv’s regional governor and head of the military administration, said on his Telegram channel that two missiles had struck an electrical power substation, a crucial node in the network and one of Russia’s main targets.

Andriy Moskalenko, Lviv’s first deputy mayor, said he expected electricity to be restored to most of Lviv by the end of Thursday, after the attack caused a nearly complete blackout. “If you compare to the morning, the situation is better,” he said.

But he added that the city is suffering from an acute energy shortage, and scheduled blackouts would continue. Although fighting continues hundreds of miles away in the country’s east and south, Moscow’s targeting of Ukraine’s electrical grid is being felt throughout the country. “Right now, we are living in an emergency,” Moskalenko said.

The assault Thursday was the first major missile attack in about two weeks. Russian forces also launched an assault of self-destructing drones on Ukrainian energy facilities last week.

Ukraine’s military said that some 69 missiles had been fired and that 54 of them, along with 11 self-destructing drones, were intercepted by the country’s air defense systems. The Post could not independently verify any of the figures cited by Ukrainian officials.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian air defense forces had shot down 16 Russian missiles in the capital, while Marchenko said 21 missiles had been destroyed in the Odessa region.

But the missiles also caused extensive damage and injuries. Klitschko said that missile fragments struck a home and three people, including a 14-year-old girl, had been injured in the capital. After the attack, 40 percent of Kyiv residents were without power, Klitschko said, though heat and water were continuing “as usual.”

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That 14-year-old is Tatyana Denysenko’s granddaughter. Standing outside of her daughter and granddaughter’s ruined home on Thursday afternoon, Denysenko tearfully recalled her granddaughter’s panicked phone call after an intercepted Russian missile landed on the house, injuring the girl and her mother. Denysenko said that while her daughter was being prepared for surgery, the 14-year-old’s injury was minor.

“She screamed into the phone so much that I couldn’t imagine what was going on,” Denysenko said. “My granddaughter calls me and says, ‘Grandmother, we have an explosion, the house is on fire, mother has collapsed, and she is unconscious.’

“I did not think that there could be such an explosion here. I thought everything would be fine already. What do we have here, some kind of military base or something? Where does [Russian President Vladimir Putin] throw his missiles?”

Emergency service workers cleared the debris from what was left in the family’s home. A woman who lives nearby walked past, stepping over rubble. She lifted up a blanket covering a lump on the ground. There was a dead dog underneath. “My dear,” she whispered, before covering the dog with the blanket again.

Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv Military Administration, said three districts in the capital had been hit, including an “industrial facility” and a children’s playground. The Kyiv region’s governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, said during a television broadcast that a number of houses and a medical facility had been damaged outside the capital during the attack, which lasted five hours.

In another neighborhood of Kyiv, one of the missiles shot down landed on Oleksandr Fatkulin’s home, leaving half of the brick house in ruins. Oleksandr had been sleeping on the second floor while his elderly father, Leonid, was on the first.

“Are you alive?” Leonid said he yelled up to his son after the explosion ripped through the walls.

Hours later, both men watched as firefighters put out the last embers still burning from their home. Oleksandr took a video of the scene on his phone. Both father and son were luckily unharmed because they had been on the side of the house that sustained less damage.

“I was about to take a shower when it happened,” Leonid said. “Now I’m going to need someone to let me take a shower at their place.”

Shrapnel from the missile was laid out neatly on the side of the road, piece by piece. A woman walked by with another piece — it had shattered the window of her home nearby.

“Is that another keepsake from Putin?” a neighbor asked her.

On Thursday, Belarusian officials said their air defenses shot down a Ukrainian S-300 antiaircraft missile in the country’s southeast, near the Polish border.

“Today, an air target was hit by the air defense forces,” a statement from the Belarusian defense ministry said. “Its fragments were found in an agricultural field near the village of Gorbakha, Brest region.”

Belarusian media said there were no injuries. The military commissar for the Brest region, Oleg Konovalov, also said there was “no cause for worry — unfortunately, these things happen,” according to Reuters.

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Within hours, however, Ukraine’s ambassador to Belarus was summoned to the foreign ministry.

“The Belarusian side views this incident as extremely serious,” ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz said, according to the official Belarusian BelTA news agency. Glaz also said that Belarus demanded “a thorough investigation” from Ukraine into the incident and “to hold those responsible to account” and “take comprehensive measures” to prevent a recurrence.

Also on Thursday, Roman Busargin, governor of the southern Russian region of Saratov, said that air defense systems shot down an “unidentified object” near the city of Engels — home of a strategic air base where Russian bombers involved in Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy systems are located.

“An air defense system was activated in the territory of the Engels district,” Busargin wrote on Telegram. “Emergency services were sent to the site. There is no threat to the safety of residents.”

Several local residents published photos and videos on social media of what appeared to be an air defense missile in the sky.

In the past month, Russian officials said that Ukrainian attack drones have twice targeted the Engels air base, about 300 miles from the border with Ukraine. Russian defense officials said that three servicemen were killed in the last attack, three days ago.

Kostiantyn Khudov contributed to this report.