Kyiv, Ukraine – Hundreds of Ukrainian towns were cut off from electricity on Monday by Russian attacks against critical infrastructure and deadly kamikaze drone strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine said.
Moscow is thought to be trying to counter weeks of battlefield losses by waging a punitive policy of damaging energy facilities before winter in a move that President Vladimir Putin hopes will weaken Ukrainian resistance in the eight-month war.
Ukraine branded the swarm of attacks, which the presidency said killed three people in Kyiv, as an act of desperation with a senior official demanding that Russia be excluded from the G20, which is to hold a summit in a month.
Russia launched five strikes in Kyiv and against critical infrastructure in the central Dnipropetrovsk and northeast Sumy regions, knocking out electricity to hundreds of towns and villages, said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal.
“Hundreds of settlements were cut off as a result of the attack,” he said.
Temperatures across Ukraine were forecast at between 11 and 17 degrees Celsius on Monday.
Ukrainian regional officials said the strikes in Sumy killed at least three people.
The Russian army said it hit ‘all’ its targets, having aimed ‘high-precision and long-range … weapons at military command and control facilities and the energy systems of Ukraine’.
An AFP journalist saw drones swooping low over a central district of Kyiv as police tried to shoot them down with automatic weapons and smoke rose from explosions across the city.
“They seem to be hitting us every Monday now,” said taxi driver Sergiy Prikhodko, who was waiting for a fare near the central train station in Kyiv.
“It’s a new way of starting the week,” he told AFP.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official at the Ukrainian presidency, said emergency workers rescued 19 people from the rubble, including an elderly woman.
The presidency put the death toll at three in Kyiv.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said a residential building in the central Shevchenkivsky district of the capital was hit, sparking a fire and damaging several buildings.
The dead included one woman, he said, posting also a picture of what he called the charred wreckage of one kamikaze drone – loitering munitions that can hover while waiting for a target to attack.
The attack comes exactly a week after Russia missiles rained down on Kyiv and other cities on October 10 in the biggest wave of strikes in months.
Those attacks killed at least 19 people, wounded 105 others and sparked an international outcry.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv shortly before the first explosion at around 6:35am (0335 GMT), followed by sirens across most of the country.
“Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine. The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
‘Those who give orders to attack critical infrastructure, to freeze civilians and organize total mobilisation to cover the frontline with corpses, cannot sit at the same table with leaders of (the) G20,’ senior presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said.
In a statement on social media, he called for Russia to be ‘expelled from all platforms’.
The head of the national railways, Alexander Kamyshin, confirmed attacks ‘near’ the capital’s central rail hub.
“We need more air defence systems and as soon as possible. More weapons,” Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said on social media.
“It shows their desperation,” he wrote of the Russians.
In Moscow, the city’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that Russian army draft offices would close from Monday, saying the Kremlin’s mobilisation quotas to recruit reservists to fight in Ukraine had been completed in the capital.
“The tasks of the partial mobilisation’ – announced just over a month ago – in the city had been ‘completed in full,” Sobyanin said on his website.
On Monday, NATO launched regular nuclear deterrence drills in western Europe, which were planned before Russia invaded Ukraine, rejecting calls to scrap the exercises after Putin ratcheted up veiled threats to launch a nuclear attack.
The exercises will involve US B-52 long-range bombers, and up to 60 aircraft in total will take part in training flights over Belgium, the United Kingdom and the North Sea.
In Geneva, new UN rights chief Volker Turk voiced alarm about Monday’s fresh Russian attacks, insisting that civilians must be protected.
“Any escalation in warfare is deeply troubling to us,” Turk told reporters in Geneva on his first day on the job. “It is absolutely important that civilian objects, civilians, are not targeted,” he said.
In the south, Ukrainian troops have been pushing closer and closer to the large city of Kherson, just north of Crimea.
Kherson is one of four regions in Ukraine that Moscow recently claimed to have annexed, and the city of Kherson was the first major city to fall after the Kremlin launched its invasion in February.
Washington last week announced a new US$725mn package that brings the total US military assistance to Ukraine to US$17.6bn since the Russian invasion began on February 24.