Russia attacked power stations and other infrastructure Sunday, causing widespread outages across Ukraine as Kyiv’s forces pressed a swift counteroffensive that has driven Moscow’s troops from swaths of territory it had occupied in the northeast.
The bombardment ignited a massive fire at a power station on Kharkiv’s western outskirts and killed at least one person. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the “deliberate and cynical missile strikes” against civilian targets as acts of terrorism.
Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv appeared to be without power Sunday night. Cars drove through darkened streets, and the few pedestrians used flashlights or mobile phones to light their way.
Separately, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Russia-occupied south completely shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.
Kyiv’s action in recent days to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty flight as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday.
Ukraine's counter-offensive leaves Russia reeling
In an early evening update on the military situation, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukrainian forces, said Ukrainian soldiers had regained control of about 3,000 sq km of territory since the start of September, and were approaching the border in the country’s north-east.
“In the Kharkiv direction, we began to advance not only to the south and east, but also to the north. There are 50km to go to the state border [with Russia],” Zaluzhnyi said.
The Ukrainians have retaken the rail hub of Kupiansk, 60 miles east of Kharkiv, and are in the process of seizing Izium, which was being abruptly abandoned by the Russians whose defence ministry said their forces were regrouping.
Then on Sunday night, the country’s military said it had seized checkpoints due north of Kharkiv city, on the Russian border, in an area separate from the breakthroughs of the past week, south-east and east of the industrial city.
Ukraine President remains defiant
In a defiant post on social media after the power cuts, President Zelensky accused Russia of carrying out "terrorist acts" by targeting civilian infrastructure.
"Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as terrible and deadly for us as your 'friendship and brotherhood'," he wrote on Telegram.
It comes after a remarkable Ukrainian advance, which if confirmed will mean Ukrainian forces have tripled their territorial gains in little over 48 hours.
President Zelensky said 1,000 sq km had been retaken on Thursday evening. That figure rose to 2,000 sq km on Saturday evening, then to 3,000 on Sunday.
Journalists have been denied access to the front lines but several videos on social media show Ukrainian troops present in towns and villages that were until recently held by Russia.
Potential rift in Russian leadership
The retreat angered Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to step up its war efforts. Many criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the debacle in Ukraine.
In Moscow, Putin attended the opening of a huge Ferris wheel in a park on Saturday, and inaugurated a new transport link and a sports arena. The action underscored the Kremlin’s narrative that the war it calls a “special military operation” was going according to plan without affecting Russians’ everyday lives.
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow festivities as a grave mistake.
“The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “Authorities mustn’t celebrate when people are mourning.”
In a sign of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat resulted from blunders by the Russian brass.
“They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” Kadyrov said. “If they don’t make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will be forced to contact the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.”
(with inputs from AP)