by Ania TSOUKANOVA with Max DELANY in Strasbourg
KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Fresh Russian strikes battered Ukraine’s already failing electricity grid, causing blackouts across the war-torn nation and in neighboring Moldova, in attacks Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the UN were “an obvious crime against humanity”.
The Ukrainian energy system has been left in tatters and millions have been subjected to long periods without electricity after weeks of Russian bombardments, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning the country’s priority this winter would be “survival”.
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces had fired around 70 cruise missiles at targets across the country Wednesday and also deployed attack drones.
The strikes piled pressure on the Ukrainian grid, disrupting power supplies in southern and eastern regions, with water and electricity cuts in the capital Kyiv.
“When we have the temperature below zero, and scores of millions of people without energy supplies, without heating, without water, this is an obvious crime against humanity,” Zelensky told the UN Security Council late Wednesday via video-link.
The strikes killed several people and disconnected three nuclear power stations, officials said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the latest Russian salvo was a response to a decision by the European Parliament to recognize Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism” over its nine-month invasion of Ukraine, and its call for the 27-nation EU to follow.
The French Ambassador to the United Nations called the Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy system “a clear violation of humanitarian law”.
“The objective is clear: in the face of military defeats, to sow terror,” Nicolas de Riviere told the UN Security Council on Wednesday. “The continuation of these reprisals is intolerable.”
– Burnt out cars, corpses –
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote on Telegram that three people were killed in the attacks in the capital, including a 17-year-old girl, and 11 residents were injured.
AFP reporters at the scene of one strike in Kyiv saw the burnt out remains of two cars and the bodies of two people killed in the blast.
Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing severe damage to around half of the country’s power facilities.
The WHO has cautioned that winter will be “life-threatening” for millions of people as a result.
Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi said half of the western city was without electricity.
Neighboring Moldova said it was suffering massive blackouts caused by the missile barrage and its EU-friendly president, Maia Sandu, accused Russia of leaving her country “in the dark”.
Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator Energoatom said Wednesday’s strikes had disconnected all three nuclear power plants still under Ukrainian control from the grid and forced the plant in Zaporizhzhia — controlled by Russian forces — to be powered by backup generators.
– ‘Grief fills our hearts’
In Zaporizhzhia earlier on Wednesday, Russian strikes smashed into a hospital in the city of Vilniansk, killing a newborn baby in the maternity ward.
Emergency services said a woman and doctor also in the building had survived, as official footage showed workers wearing protective helmets trying to dig out a man trapped waist-deep in rubble.
“Grief fills our hearts,” said Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia region, in the wake of the attack.
Vilniansk is around 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the front line, and was targeted in Russian strikes last week that killed 10 people.
Moscow claimed to have annexed Zaporizhzhia alongside three other Ukraine regions last month despite not having full control of the territory.
On a visit to Armenia Wednesday, spokesman Kremlin Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had faith in the “success” of its offensive in Ukraine.
In the Kharkiv region, Russian strikes on a residential building and a clinic left two people dead, the governor said.
– ‘Attacks and atrocities’ –
The WHO has recorded more than 700 attacks on Ukraine’s health facilities since Russia’s invasion began in February, it said this week.
Wednesday’s decision by European legislators to recognize Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is a symbolic political step with no legal consequences.
Kyiv has for months called on the international community to declare Russia a “terrorist state,” and the Strasbourg parliament’s decision will likely anger Moscow.
The resolution approved by EU lawmakers said the “deliberate attacks and atrocities carried out by the Russian Federation against the civilian population of Ukraine… and other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amount to acts of terror.”
Ukraine praised the decision, with Zelensky calling for Russia to be “held accountable in order to end its long-standing policy of terrorism in Ukraine and across the globe.”
© Agence France-Presse