Ukraine forced to shut nuclear power plants as six killed in Russian strikes

A barrage of Russian missiles hit Ukraine on Wednesday, killing at least six civilians and forcing nuclear power plants to shut down as power was cut in Kyiv and several other regions.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky called for a meeting of the United Nations security council to discuss the damage to critical infrastructure caused by the Russian strikes – the latest in a relentless campaign that threatens to leave millions facing a freezing winter with severely limited access to heating and light.

“The murder of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure are acts of terror,” Mr Zelensky said. “Ukraine will continue to demand a decisive response from the world to these crimes.”

Three nuclear power plants were forced to switch off their reactors, Ukraine’s national energy company Energoatom said, while officials reported blackouts in Kyiv and regions across the country including Kharkiv, where the mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city said public transport had stopped running.

Meanwhile, electricity was cut for half of Moldova, a neighbouring country whose power grid remains linked to Ukraine’s and suffered a similar outage last Tuesday.

Strikes in Kyiv killed four and injured 34, including five children, regional governor Oleksy Kuleba said, while city mayor Vitali Klitschko said a 17-year-old girl was among the dead when a missile hit a residential block.

“I was sitting in my flat and I heard an explosion. My windows in my hall, kitchen and bedroom were thrown open by the blast wave,” said Yuriy Akhymenko, 55, who lives in an apartment building across the road from the one that was hit, according to Reuters.

Rescuers work next to a damaged residential building after a Russian strike on the outskirts of Kyiv (AFP/Getty)
Rescuers work next to a damaged residential building after a Russian strike on the outskirts of Kyiv (AFP/Getty)

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, reported that shelling in Kherson city killed a 73-year-old man, little more than one week after Moscow’s commanders pulled their troops out of the southern regional capital and across the Dnipro river.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said six civilians were killed by missile strikes across the country.

Nuclear reactors were shut down at Pivdennoukrainsk in the south and the Rivne and Khmelnytskyi plants in the west, Energoatom said, while Europe’s largest nuclear complex at Zaporizhzhia remained switched off because of nearby shelling that both sides blamed on each other.

Most thermal and hydroelectric power plants were forced to shut down too, Ukraine‘s energy ministry said. As a result, it said, the great majority of electricity consumers in areas of the country under Ukrainian control were cut off.

By 6pm, electricity in half of the western city of Lviv had been restored following repairs, its mayor said.

People ride on a city bus during a blackout in Lviv (AFP/Getty)
People ride on a city bus during a blackout in Lviv (AFP/Getty)

Earlier, Russian missiles hit a maternity hospital in the Zaporizhzhia region overnight, killing a baby, the regional governor said in a Telegram statement.

Ukraine’s top military commander, general Valery Zaluzhny, said air defences had shot down 51 of 67 Russian cruise missiles launched, including 20 of the 30 that targeted Kyiv.

Moscow has been openly targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October, after an attack on a key Russian bridge to Crimea which followed huge losses of captured territory in crushing defeats for the Kremlin.

Ukraine says the strikes amount to war crimes, deliberately intended to harm civilians and break the defending nation’s spirit over what is certain to be a challenging winter.

Fire rages at the site of a strike in Vyshgorod (Reuters)
Fire rages at the site of a strike in Vyshgorod (Reuters)

Mr Zelensky remained defiant despite the government’s assessment that almost half of Ukraine’s energy system has been damaged. He said: “We’ll renew everything and get through all of this because we are an unbreakable people.”

On Tuesday, he announced that special “invincibility centres” would be set up around the country to provide electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone links and a pharmacy, free of charge.

European allies have agreed to donate power generators to keep Ukraine’s hospitals, schools and other essential facilities running.

Fighting continued on the ground in the east, where Russia is pushing for territory its proxy forces have laid claim to since 2014, with Ukraine reporting fierce attacks and constant shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.