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Ukrainians repair infrastructure destroyed by Russian strikes in Kharkiv


Residents collect water from a well in a neighborhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sept. 12, 2022.

By Andrew E. Kramer and Maria Varenikova


First, the electricity blinked out. Then in parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, water taps went dry. Smoke from fires wafted through the streets.


The Ukrainian army’s surprise counteroffensive in the country’s northeast has recaptured hundreds of square miles of territory, seized abandoned Russian military vehicles and rolled into strategically important towns. One Russian response has been a flurry of long-range strikes on infrastructure far from the front, apparently an attempt to dampen the jubilation for Ukraine’s military wins.


The strikes do not appear to have had direct bearing on the fighting. A missile attack Sunday on an electrical station on the edge of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, for example, was dozens of miles from Ukraine’s combat operations.


Ukrainian and U.S. officials are calling the strikes retaliation for battlefield loses, complicating the lives of tens of thousands of Ukrainians with blackouts and water shortages. “Russia’s apparent response to Ukraine liberating cities and villages in the east: sending missiles to attempt to destroy critical civilian infrastructure,” Bridget A. Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on Twitter.


An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said that two cruise missiles had hit elements of critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, including a major power plant, knocking out electricity to the city and several other regions. “Russians want to leave us without light, water and heat,” he said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.


The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, called the attack an act of retribution for Ukraine’s military advances. “This is a vile and cynical revenge of the Russian aggressor for the successes of our army at the front, in particular in the Kharkiv region,” he said on Telegram.


The strikes on the city, the capital of the province where the Ukrainian military has had its most significant successes, killed at least one person Monday, a 37-year-old man, and wounded six others. Air-raid sirens blared, and every few hours a thud rattled windows.


Electricity flickered on and off through the day in the city Monday, but by evening officials said they had restored power to most residents who lost it the day before.


“It’s not payback. It’s just terrorism, pure terrorism,” said Andriy, 41, whose apartment building was severely damaged in a rocket strike.


“I don’t give a damn why this happened, I just know I no longer have a home,” said Vita, another resident of the building. She had saved for years to buy the now-destroyed home, she said.


As the sun settled Monday into a pink-and-orange sunset over Kharkiv, a long line of people carrying plastic water bottles formed at a still-working faucet in one neighborhood. It was a minor hassle, said Dmytro, 26.


“I never thought of leaving” the city, he said, even when Russian troops were fighting in the outskirts. “And now that we’ve pushed them back, I am definitely not leaving.”


In an evening address to the nation Sunday, Zelenskyy lashed out at the Russian government for the strikes and said they would fail to dissuade Ukrainians from fighting.


“Read our lips,” he said. “Without gas or without you? Without you. Without electricity or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you.”



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