KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities endeavored Saturday to restore electricity and water services after recent pummeling by Russian military strikes that vastly damaged infrastructure, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying millions have seen their power restored since blackouts swept the war-battered country days earlier.
Skirmishes continued in the east and residents from the southern city of Kherson headed north and west to flee after punishing, deadly bombardments by Russian forces in recent days. The strikes have been seen as attempts at Russian retribution against Ukraine’s beleaguered but defiant people after Ukrainian troops over two week ago liberated the city that had been in Russian hands for many months.
“The key task of today, as well as other days of this week, is energy,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly televised address late Friday. “From Wednesday to today we have managed to halve the number of people whose electricity is cut off, to stabilize the system.”
He said, however, that blackouts continued in most regions, including Kyiv, the capital.
“In total, more than 6 million subscribers are affected. On Wednesday evening, almost 12 million subscribers were cut off,” Zelenskyy added.
He allowed himself a rare show of pique about how Kyiv authorities were faring, alluding to “many complaints” with the rollouts of “points of invincibility” — public centers where residents can stock up on food, water, battery power and other essentials — in the capital.
“Please pay attention: Kyiv residents need more protection,” he said. “As of this evening, 600,000 subscribers have been disconnected in the city. Many Kyiv residents were without electricity for more than 20 or even 30 hours.”
“I expect quality work from the mayor’s office,” he said, alluding to the administration of Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
The president and the mayor have sporadically sparred since Zelenskyy took office in 2019. Zelenskyy has accused Klitschko and officials around him of corruption, while Klitschko contends the president’s office has put him under political pressure.
Early Saturday, the Kyiv municipal administration said water connections had been restored throughout the city, but that about 130,000 residents remain without electricity.
City authorities said Saturday morning that all power, water, heating and communication services would be restored within 24 hours.
The scramble to restore power came as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo met Saturday with Zelenskyy in Kyiv. De Croo tweeted that Belgium was “releasing new humanitarian and military aid,” but gave no immediate details.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians were marking the 90th anniversary of the start of the “Holodomor,” or Great Famine, that killed more than 3 million people over two years as the Soviet government under Josef Stalin confiscated food and grain supplies and deported many Ukrainians.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz marked the commemoration by drawing parallels with the impact of the war on Ukraine — a key supplier of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other foodstuffs — on world markets. Exports from Ukraine have resumed under a U.N.-brokered deal but have still been far short of pre-war levels, driving up global prices.
“Today, we stand united in stating that hunger must never again be used as a weapon,” Scholz said in a video message. “That is why we cannot tolerate what we are witnessing: The worst global food crisis in years with abhorrent consequences for millions of people – from Afghanistan to Madagascar, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa.”
He said a World Food Program ship was in the process of delivering Ukrainian grain to Ethiopia, and Germany was adding another 10 million euros to efforts to help expedite grain shipments from Ukraine.
In Kherson, residents continued to flee — or try to. A salvo of missiles struck the recently liberated city for a second day on Friday.
“I have no money, I can’t even buy gas for the car,” said Iryna Rusanovska, standing on the street near the bodies of three people who died from a strike on Thursday. She said wants to take her family to western Ukraine or out of the country.
Some 100 Kherson residents hopped aboard a government-chartered train in a first organized evacuation on Friday, and buses were expected to ferry others to shelters in the cities of Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih, the Ministry of Reintegration said.
By JAMEY KEATEN and SAM MEDNICK Associated Press
Mednick reported from Kherson, Ukraine.