Ukrainians suffer in cold, darkness as president implores UN to punish Russia

November 24 ------ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations Security Council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that have again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in.

Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine recently, killing 10 people, forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places. “Today is just one day, but we have received 70 missiles. That’s the Russian formula of terror. This is all against our energy infrastructure…. Hospitals, schools, transport, residential districts all suffered,” Zelensky said via video link to the council chamber. Ukraine was waiting to see “a very firm reaction” to the air strikes from the world, he added. The council is unlikely to take any action in response to the appeal since Russia is a member with veto power.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clearly weaponizing winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people.” The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she added. Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya responded by complaining that it was against council rules for Zelensky to appear via video, and rejected what he called “reckless threats and ultimatums” by Ukraine and its supporters in the West. Nebenzya said damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure was caused by missiles fired by Ukrainian air defense systems that crashed into civilian areas after being fired at Russia’s missiles, and called on the West to stop providing Ukraine with air defense missiles.

The capital city of Kyiv was one of the main targets of the missile strikes. “Today we had three hits on high-rise apartment buildings. Unfortunately, 10 people died,” said Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky. Explosions reverberated throughout Kyiv as Russian missiles bore down and Ukrainian air defense rockets were fired in efforts to intercept them. Air raid sirens also blared across the country in a nationwide alert. “Our little one was sleeping. Two years old. She was sleeping, she got covered. She is alive, thanks be to God,” said a man who gave his name as Fyodr, walking away from a smoldering apartment building that was hit in Kyiv, dragging a suitcase.

All of the Kyiv region, where over 3 million people live, lost electricity and running water, Kyiv’s governor said. Much of Ukraine suffered similar problems and some regions implemented emergency blackouts to help conserve energy and carry out repairs. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 80% of people in the capital were still without power and water. But Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said repair crews were working hard and “electricity will begin to appear in the coming hours.” By 6 pm, electricity in half of the western city of Lviv had been restored following repairs, its mayor said. Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, said air defenses had shot down 51 of 67 Russian cruise missiles launched, including 20 of the 30 that targeted Kyiv.

Since October, Russia has acknowledged targeting Ukraine’s civilian energy grid far from front lines as a Ukrainian counter-offensive has recaptured territory from Russian occupiers in the east and south. Moscow says the aim of its missile strikes is to weaken Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate. Kyiv says the attacks on infrastructure amount to war crimes, deliberately intended to harm civilians and to break the national will. That will not happen, Zelensky vowed in an earlier video address posted on the Telegram messaging app. “We’ll renew everything and get through all of this because we are an unbreakable people,” he said.

With the first snow of Ukraine’s generally frigid winter falling, authorities worry about the impact of power cuts on millions of people. Zelensky announced special “invincibility centers” that would provide citizens with electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone links and a pharmacy, free of charge and around the clock. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential administration, recently said on the Telegram messaging app that 2,750 of the centers were now in operation. In addition, Europe’s biggest cities will donate power generators and transformers.

A series of Russian battlefield setbacks in the east and south included a Russian retreat earlier this month from the key southern city of Kherson. Ground battles continue to rage in the east, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by its proxies since 2014.