Ukraine said it had survived a months-long winter onslaught of Russian attacks on water and energy infrastructure, as it marked the first day of spring.
But Kiev came under extreme pressure in the eastern city of Bakhmut, while Moscow said it had downed a “massive” barrage of Ukrainian drones launched in 2014 in the Kremlin-captured Crimean peninsula.
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Since October, Russia has been shelling key facilities in Ukraine with missiles and drones, disrupting the supply of water, heat and electricity to millions of people.
President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Ukrainians for surviving a winter marked by systematic Russian attacks on energy facilities that plunged millions into darkness and cold.
“We have overcome this winter. It was a very difficult period, and every Ukrainian experienced this hardship, but we were still able to provide Ukraine with power and heat,” Zelensky said in his daily address.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed the first day of spring as another “huge defeat” for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of attrition in Ukraine.
“We survived the harshest winter in our history. It was cold and dark, but we were unwavering,” Kuleba said in a statement.
Aid organizations warned at the start of winter that the targeted campaign would force a new wave of migration into Europe and that Ukraine’s priority would be “survival” through the cold months.
The Kremlin said Kiev was largely responsible for civilian suffering stemming from the outage because it refused to meet Moscow’s war demands.
– ‘Choke on your missiles’ –
But the grid is stabilizing and Ukrainian energy provider Ukrainergo said on Wednesday there had been “no power outages” for more than two weeks.
It added, “Engineers are repairing all power system facilities that were previously damaged by Russian missile and drone attacks.”
The war in Ukraine has seen Europe hammer its deep reliance on Russian oil and gas amid waves of sanctions aimed at reducing Moscow’s ability to finance its military through energy revenues.
Kuleba said in the statement, “The European Union won too, and contrary to Moscow’s laugh, it did not freeze without Russian gas. One piece of advice to Russia: Choke on your gas and choke on your missiles.”
The foreign minister’s remarks come as the battle for Kiev around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine is reaching an indecisive moment, becoming the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s offensive.
Near Bakhmut, AFP reporters saw Ukrainian forces closing roads leading to the salt-mining town, raising fears of a possible Ukrainian withdrawal.
But Sergiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military stationed in the east of the country, said “no such decision has been taken yet”.
“Heavy fighting continues for our Bakhmut,” said Oleksiy Revva, head of the city’s military administration.
Reva said the city, which once had a population of about 70,000, is slowly leaving and now only 4,500 people remain.
Zelensky said on Tuesday that fighting around Bakhmut was “escalating”.
“Russia doesn’t count people at all, sending them to attack our targets continuously,” he said.
– ‘You can’t help it’ –
Elsewhere in the Donetsk region, the cost of the fighting was evident at a field hospital where AFP journalists saw wounded Ukrainian soldiers being treated.
“You miss the exceptional cases where people have fatal injuries,” said Igor, a 28-year-old anesthesiologist. “Partially severed heads, torn or severed major vessels, where you can’t help the patient.” That’s what you remember.”
The Ukrainian president said on Wednesday that three civilians were killed and four others were wounded in Russian attacks in the Donetsk region.
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According to local officials, a one-year-old child and his mother were wounded in the shelling in the southern Kherson region.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had shot down or disabled 10 Ukrainian drones targeting Crimea, a day after Russian officials said they had shot down three more in the country’s southern regions and near Moscow.
“An attempt by the Kiev regime to carry out a large-scale drone attack on facilities on the Crimean peninsula has been foiled,” the defense ministry said.
Ten drones were either “shot down” or “disabled”, the statement said.
Ukraine’s presidential assistant Mikhailo Podolyak said on Wednesday that Kiev was not responsible for the attacks in Russia.
“Ukraine does not attack Russian territory. Ukraine is waging a defensive war to capture all of its territory,” he wrote on social media.