Russian forces bombed power facilities across Ukraine as officials said a new Russian offensive was underway in the east.
Ukraine’s air force said 61 of 71 Russian missiles were shot down on Friday. But Energy Minister German Galushchenko said Russia had hit power plants in six regions with missiles and drones, causing blackouts in much of Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly attacked civilian infrastructure far from the front lines, leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heat or water for days in the middle of winter.
The barrage often accompanied Ukrainian diplomatic or battlefield advances.
Friday’s attack came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrapped up a tour of European allies, where he was received with enthusiasm but did not receive public promises of the fighter jets he had sought.
“London, Paris, Brussels – everywhere these past few days I have been talking about how to strengthen our soldiers. There are very important agreements and we have received good signals,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“This applies to long-range missiles and tanks and the next level of our cooperation – fighter jets.”
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said 10 Russian missiles were shot down over the Ukrainian capital after sirens went off during the morning rush hour and weary civilians took cover.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine was left without 44 percent of nuclear production and 75 percent of thermal energy capacity.
“This is a deliberate targeting of the infrastructure that keeps Ukrainians alive in the winter,” said Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman for the US State Department.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and said the facilities it attacked supported Kiev’s war effort.
Ukraine is bracing for a new Russian offensive, believing President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a battlefield success ahead of the February 24 anniversary of the invasion. Ukrainian governors in Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the east said the attack had begun.
Putin will deliver his delayed annual address to parliament on February 21. That was the date last year when he recognized parts of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by Russian-backed separatists as independent, a prelude to the invasion.
The full capture of those provinces, among four that Russia later claimed it had annexed, would allow Putin to claim that one of his top priorities had been achieved.
Also before the anniversary of the invasion, US President Joe Biden will visit Ukraine’s neighbor Poland from February 20 to 22 to discuss Ukraine and meet with allies, the White House announced on Friday.
Russian forces are focused on Donbas
Russian ground forces have focused on Ukraine’s industrial east, particularly Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that make up the industrial Donbass region where recent fighting has been most intense, the Ukrainian military said. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
Kiev said Russian forces were pushing key points on several fronts in the Donbass region, although Russian progress was reportedly slow.
In the Donetsk region, local Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian military had deployed additional troops and launched offensive operations.
“Every day there is an escalation and Russian attacks are becoming active throughout the region,” Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
In Luhansk province, the Russian army is trying to break through Ukrainian defenses, according to regional governor Serhiy Haidai.
“The situation is getting worse, the enemy is constantly attacking; The Russians are bringing in a large amount of heavy equipment and aircraft,” said Haidai.
For weeks, there was little change in battlefield positions amid the icy winter conditions.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Moscow-appointed Donetsk region, said Russian forces had secured positions on the southern outskirts of Vuhledar.
He added that Ukraine sent additional reinforcements to the city, which slowed the Russian advance.
Pushilin’s claim could not be independently verified.
Vuhledar is a strategically important town located along the railway line that passes through the region on the way to Crimea.
The capture of the city is important for Russia to ensure the security of the rail link with Crimea and advance its goal of capturing the entire Donetsk region.