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A local resident walks past cars stuck in a traffic jam as the Kyiv metro network remains out of service on 16 December 2022, after Russian strikes targeted the power infrastructure. A fresh barrage of deadly Russian strikes battered Ukraine, cutting water and electricity in major cities and piling pressure on the grid in sub-zero temperatures. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Kyiv Initiates Emergency Blackout After Russian Missile Barrage Damages Critical Infrastructure

Russian forces fired a barrage of missiles at Ukrainian targets on Friday morning, including civilian infrastructure, in one of the largest assaults during the war so far. The strikes hit at least seven cities and caused major damage to the electric grid.

Kyiv initiated an emergency blackout in response to the strikes as the power was knocked out in Ukraine’s second largest city—Kharkiv. At least 12 Ukrainians were killed in the attacks this morning, which also affected utility service and Kyiv’s metro network, according to Reuters. 

“There is colossal damage to infrastructure, primarily the energy system,” said Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov in a message on Telegram. “I ask you to be patient with what is happening now. I know that in your houses there is no light, no heating, no water supply.”

Russian strikes have hit Ukraine’s energy infrastructure regularly since October, but the recent attacks have been more damaging as the temperature plummets. Energy providers have been implementing blackouts, a practice which is expected to continue through March 2023. 

Ukraine’s energy operator, Ukrenergo, was implementing emergency shutdowns across all regions of the country in response to Friday’s assault. The shutdowns are designed to ration energy for crews working to repair the damage from the missile strikes. As of Friday afternoon, Ukrenergo said it was unable to meet more than 50 percent of electricity consumption needs.

“Russia has bombarded Ukraine’s electrical grid, heating, water, and natural gas infrastructure with missile and drone attacks since October in what military analysts say is a strategy to demoralize Ukrainians by plunging the country into darkness and cold as winter sets in,” The New York Times reports.

Russia fired the airstrikes one day after European Union leaders agreed to its ninth round of sanctions against the nation, barring investment in Russia’s mining industry and defense sector, plus implementing prohibitions against 200 individuals.

The sanctions package—which has not been made public—also “targeted the Russian defense industry, more Russian banks, and the mining sectors and planned for export controls on products such as chemicals, nerve agents, electronics, and IT components that could be used by the armed forces, as well as components for unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones,” Euronews reports. 

Drones have been an integral part of the war, used by both Russian and Ukrainian forces in combat both to strike targets and to provide additional surveillance. 

“Commercial [drones] give undermatched forces a sense of parity when it comes to intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and kinetic targeting,” wrote Bill Edwards, CPP, PCI, PSP, in an online exclusive for Security Management. “The war in Ukraine has quickly become the latest testing ground for commercial drone use in combat, but more importantly, it has shown what is possible with simple modifications, limited training, and a drive to use these platforms outside of a recreational purpose.”

Along with the sanctions package, EU officials also pledged to provide €18 billion ($19.11 billion) in financing to Ukraine for 2023 to cover state debt and keep the economy running.

“The packages of macro-financial support for Ukraine are also weapons in defense of freedom,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an address to the European Council on the aid package. “Just as the ninth package of EU sanctions against Russia, this is our protection. Please understand that! I hope that already in January we will be able to thank you for the first tranche of this macro-financial package.”

In addition to the support from the EU, Ukraine may also receive Patriot missiles from the United States to assist military efforts to combat Russia. PBS reports that U.S. officials were “poised to approve” sending the missiles to help Ukrainian forces shoot down incoming missiles from Russia. 

"Patriot" stands for Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target; it is a surface-to-air guided air and missile defense system manufactured by Raytheon and is in use in several North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. 

“A Patriot battery can need as many as 90 troops to operate and maintain it, and for months the U.S. was reluctant to provide the complex system because sending forces into Ukraine to operate it is a non-starter for the administration of President Joe Biden,” according to PBS. “Yet concerns remain that even without the presence of U.S. servicemen to train Ukrainians on how to use the system, deployment of the missiles could provoke Russia or risk that a fired projectile could end up hitting inside Russia, further escalating the conflict.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has raised concerns about the number of people displaced due to the ongoing conflict—including 7.83 million people who have fled Ukraine and 6.5 million who are internally displaced—and human rights violations committed by Russian military forces. 

Türk’s team is on the ground in Ukraine and has been documenting ongoing violations of international human rights laws, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence.

“And missile strikes on critical infrastructure, including energy facilities and hydroelectric power stations are exposing millions of civilians, especially persons in situations of vulnerability, to extreme hardship this winter,” he said in an address on Thursday. “Over 10 million consumers—including families, businesses, hospitals, and schools—are facing cuts in electricity, and millions are cut off from a regular supply of water and heat.

“Additional strikes could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement,” he continued.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed at least 17,181 civilian casualties in the war (as of 5 December 2022), including 6,702 people killed and 10,479 people injured. Most of these people were harmed by explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles, and air strikes.

The UN “believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” according to a press release. “This concerns, for example, Mariupol (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.”