Kyiv urges more air defence assistance as Russia pounds Ukraine's energy sector

Blackouts and electricity costs in Ukraine reaching record highs

The Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. AP Photo
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Russia launched a barrage of missiles and drones on Saturday that damaged energy facilities and critical infrastructure across Ukraine, injuring at least four people, and prompting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to issue a plea for more air defence assistance.

The sixth major Russian air attack on the Ukrainian power sector since March damaged energy facilities in the east, centre, and west, the national grid operator Ukrenergo said.

Ukraine's air force claimed it shot down 35 of 53 Russian missiles and 46 of 47 attack drones used for the strikes, which pile more pressure on Ukraine's hobbled energy system as the war with Russia is in its third year.

“Russia's main goal is to normalise terror, to use the lack of sufficient air defence and determination of Ukraine's partners,” Mr Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.

“Partners know exactly what is needed. Additional 'Patriots' and other modern air defence systems for Ukraine. To accelerate and expand F-16 deliveries to Ukraine. To provide our soldiers with all the necessary capabilities.”

So far this year, Ukraine has found itself under pressure, blaming delays in military aid from the US, intensified attacks on its infrastructure and Moscow’s push to expand the front line, 27 months after its invasion.

Ukraine's allies have long hesitated to give it approval to use their weapons on Russian territory despite its recent offensive on the border town of Kharkiv.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden approved use of US weapons by Ukraine in a limited area of Russia under mounting pressure, including from Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

But Italy, a founding member of Nato, reiterated its opposition to Ukrainian strikes inside Russia on Saturday.

“It is a very delicate moment, we must not make false steps” and must avoid “rash steps and declarations”, Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Tajani told a meeting in Rapallo, north-west Italy, according to the AGI and Ansa news agencies.

He added that “even the US has not authorised the indiscriminate use of its weapons against Russia, but only to strike a base from where the drones depart. They, too, are very cautious”, AGI reported.

Mr Tajani added that Italy would send another package of aid to Ukraine within “weeks”.

But he repeated that “we will not send even one Italian soldier to fight in Ukraine because we are not at war with Russia”, AGI reported.

Renewed attacks on the power sector

On Saturday, Russian forces attacked energy facilities in the eastern Donetsk region, south-east Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk regions, central Kyrovohrad region and Ivano-Frankivsk region in the west, the Energy Ministry said.

Air alerts lasted for more than three hours across the regions, with many people rushing for shelters in the middle of the night.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said four people were injured and three critical infrastructure facilities were hit in the region on Ukraine's border with Poland. He gave no further details on the facilities.

DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy company, said its two thermal power plants had been hit and equipment seriously damaged.

The Russian Defence Ministry has said it is striking Ukraine’s military-industrial complex and energy facilities in retaliation for Kyiv’s strikes on Russian energy facilities.

Ukraine has stepped up drone attacks on Russian oil facilities this year, trying to find a pressure point against the Kremlin, whose forces are advancing in the eastern Donbas region and have opened a front in the Kharkiv region in the north-east.

Russia attacked the Ukrainian energy system in the first winter of the war, and renewed its assault on the grid in March as Ukraine was running low on stocks of western air defence missiles.

Ukrainian officials said the western aid has started to arrive, but Russian bombardments over the past two months knocked out the bulk of the thermal and hydropower generation, caused blackouts, and pushed electricity imports to record highs.

The government was forced to nearly double consumer electricity tariffs to be able to fund repairs. It plans record electricity imports of about 27 megawatt hours (Mwh) for Saturday.

Updated: June 01, 2024, 1:45 PM