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Ukraine's power grid sustains record damage in Russian strikes, utility says

Tetyana Safonova looks at her mobile phone during a power outage on Thursday in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
Paula Bronstein
/
Getty Images
Tetyana Safonova looks at her mobile phone during a power outage on Thursday in Borodyanka, Ukraine.

KYIV, Ukraine — Over 1.4 million Ukrainian households have lost electricity after a morning of repeated Russian air raids, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office says.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that 40 cruise missiles and 16 allegedly Iranian-made drones hit Ukraine throughout the day.

Ukraine's power utility, Ukrenergo, says the extent of the damage has set a new record, eclipsing the attacks the country sustained earlier in October. The earlier airstrikes marked the biggest escalation in the war since Russia invaded.

The Ukrainian government has repeated calls for citizens to ration their electricity consumption, announcing a schedule of rolling blackouts if the grid reaches capacity. Ukrenergo warns that power outages may last from 8-10 hours per day where power lines are still intact. Areas that sustained more damage may go without electricity for much longer.

The mayor of the western city of Lutsk, Ihor Polishchuk, says the damage inflicted by three Russian rockets "is not compatible with repair." He asked for patience as engineers rebuild electrical infrastructure and restore water pressure.

Police also said most air raid sirens don't have the electricity to warn of other potential airstrikes. They encouraged citizens to keep the mobile phones charged to receive emergency alerts, and said they would turn on their vehicle sirens in case of an incoming attack.

"When you don't have electricity in a city, it means you have no water, you have no supply of gas, you have nothing," Oleksandr Kharchenko, a leading Ukrainian energy expert, told NPR. "It's really huge trouble."

Seven out of Ukraine's 25 regions experienced similar damage, mostly in the country's west, south and center.

Dr. Ihor Dundiuk, the deputy head of Rivne's municipal hospital, told a national broadcaster that his facilities are running on backup power, are resorting to reserves of oxygen and fresh water, but that patients are eating food cooked over wood stoves on the sidewalk.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to Ukraine's president, says that Ukraine's air force managed to intercept 18 Russian rockets headed toward Ukrainian infrastructure. Military officials credit four new IRIS-T air defense systems from Germany for preventing damage to larger cities, but experts fear Ukraine still doesn't have the air defense capacity to cover smaller cities. Ukraine's prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, asked for more air defense rockets in response to Saturday's attacks.

Kharchenko says he believes that the Russian Air Force is working closely with energy experts to maximize civilian damage, though he says Ukraine has the capacity to repair the grid quickly and repeatedly. He notes, though, that strikes have shifted away from power plants to smaller relay stations and transformer facilities.

"Power generation facilities are quite big objects that are protected by defense because there aren't too many of them ... but there are hundreds of transformers, and it's impossible to cover all of them," Kharchenko said. "It's absolute terrorism."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julian Hayda