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Ukraine faces more outages and strikes Russian-controlled Melitopol


A shrapnel-pocked traffic sign on the edge of the village of Posad-Pokrovske, which was the Ukrainian held frontline near Kherson since the start of the war with Russia, in Ukraine on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.

By Mark Landler, Matt Stevens and Matthew Mpoke Bigg


Russian drone strikes on the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa plunged more than 1.5 million people in the region into darkness over the weekend, while 220 miles to the east, the Ukrainians struck the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, an attack that opened another front in the fiercely contested battle for territory.


President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said the country’s forces had shot down 10 of 15 drones that Russia deployed over Odesa, a tally not immediately possible to verify. But he said the strikes by Russia, part of a nationwide assault on Ukraine’s energy grid, had left the region in a “very difficult” situation, warning that it would take “days,” not “hours,” to restore power to civilians.


Some 300,000 residents of the Odesa region remained without electricity Sunday afternoon, the head of the regional military administration, Maxim Marchenko, said on Telegram, the messaging app. By Monday there should be a “significant improvement in the situation,” he said.


Odesa is the latest Ukrainian city to lose power after relentless Russian attacks on power plants, heating systems and other energy infrastructure. The attacks, using missiles and Iranian-made drones, have left Ukrainians vulnerable and in the dark just as the coldest time of the year is beginning.


All the country’s thermal and hydroelectric power plants have been damaged by the recent waves of Russian strikes, Denys Shmyhal, the Ukrainian prime minister, said Sunday.


On Facebook, Shmyhal wrote that there would be “significant restrictions on electricity consumption” through the winter.


In Melitopol, the Ukrainian strikes reportedly hit a church used as a base by Russian soldiers, underscoring the importance of artillery to soften up Russian positions in the next phase of Ukraine’s campaign to recapture land in its south.


“Fireworks in the east of Melitopol,” the city’s exiled mayor, Ivan Fedorov, said on Telegram, where he posted video taken at night of a large fire burning in the distance. Russian forces were ferrying their wounded by car to hospitals in Crimea, Fedorov said, but many people had also been killed.


It was not possible to verify the video or Fedorov’s description independently.


Tass, a state-owned Russian news agency, quoted the pro-Russian acting governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, as saying that a strike on Melitopol using a HIMARS guided-rocket system had killed two people and wounded 10 others.


For months, Ukrainian partisans working behind Russian lines have carried out attacks on targets around Melitopol, including one in the summer near Balitsky’s office. Fedorov said there had also been other attacks in the city in recent days, as well as a strike on the port city of Berdiansk, farther east.


When Ukraine recaptured the southern city of Kherson in mid-November, forcing Moscow to withdraw its troops to the east bank of the Dnieper River after months of military pressure, it opened a new phase of the battle for Ukraine’s south.


The advance has enabled Ukraine to use longer-range artillery, including the HIMARS weapons system supplied by the United States, to strike targets deeper inside Russian-controlled territory between the eastern bank of the river and the Sea of Azov, an area that includes Melitopol.


However hopeful the Ukrainians find these military successes, they are offset by the Russian-inflicted damage to the plants and equipment that Ukrainians rely on for heat and light. The relentless barrage, which has drawn condemnation from world leaders, thrusts Ukraine into a grim cycle in which crews hurry to restore power only to have it knocked out again.


In remarks Saturday night, Zelenskyy said that blackouts persisted throughout various parts of Ukraine, including in the capital, Kyiv. Some were what he classified as “emergency” outages resulting from attacks. Others were what he called “stabilization” outages, or planned blackouts on a schedule.


“The power system is now, to put it mildly, very far from a normal state — there is an acute shortage in the system,” he said, urging people to reduce their power use to put less strain on the battered power grid.


“It must be understood: Even if there are no heavy missile strikes, this does not mean that there are no problems,” Zelenskyy continued. “Almost every day, in different regions, there is shelling, there are missile attacks, drone attacks. Energy facilities are hit almost every day.”


Two people were killed and five others wounded in Russian shelling in the Kherson region on Saturday night, according to Yaroslav Yanushevich, the head of the regional military administration there.


“The enemy again attacked the residential quarters of Kherson,” Yanushevich said on Telegram. “Enemy shells hit the maternity ward of the hospital, a cafe, an infrastructure facility, private and apartment buildings.”


Russian shelling has become part of daily life in Kherson since Ukrainian forces retook it last month. Russian troops who withdrew have since then fired hundreds of shells at the city from their new positions.


For all the advances made by Ukrainian troops, military experts caution that the next phase of the battle is likely to be slow. Russian forces, led since October by Gen. Sergei Surovikin, have improved their defenses in Ukraine’s south and east in recent weeks.


“Surovikin ordered a network of trenches and defensive positions to be built in many areas, as Russia transitions to an overall defensive position through the winter,” said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp., in a thread on Twitter.


Moreover, it is difficult for Ukrainian forces to cross the Dnieper River in large numbers, a likely prerequisite to any advance. Russian forces benefit from shortened supply lines and proximity to Crimea, a region farther south that Moscow annexed illegally in 2014.


Ukraine has launched a series of strikes on targets in Crimea in recent months and, on Saturday, a partisan group, the ATESH resistance movement, said it had struck a Russian military base in a village on the peninsula, causing casualties.


“Our agents performed as expected,” the group said on Telegram. “We will continue to destroy the Russian army from the inside.” It was not possible to confirm the attack independently.

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