Ukraine’s eastern region has suffered a ‘total blackout’ a day after a counter-attack by Kyiv’s troops forced the Russian army to retreat, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in the region.
A large part of the embattled eastern Ukraine region suffered power blackouts and cuts in water supplies on Sunday. The outages will likely affect about nine million people in the region, including territory controlled by Russia.
“There is no electricity or water supply in several settlements. Emergency services are working to control fires at the sites that were hit,” Oleg Synegubov, the governor of the Kharkiv region, said in a statement on social media.
Similar reports came in the evening from the regions of Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Zaporizhzhia and Odesa.
The Ukrainian president pointed the finger of blame at Russia, accusing Moscow of deliberately hitting civilian infrastructure.
“A total blackout in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, a partial one in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions,” Zelenskyy said in a statement on social media, blaming “Russian terrorists”.
“No military facilities,” he added. “The goal is to deprive people of light and heat.”
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid reporting from Kharkiv said there are “power outages in five regions in the northeast and eastern part of the country. What we’re hearing from officials is that the Russians have hit critical infrastructure; they’re not telling us what or where, but this city is in pitch-black.
“We were on the streets when [the power outage] happened and as we were driving back to our location, everything was completely dark; there was not one light on. It was quite an eery scene.”
Officials in the Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk and Poltava regions said shortly after the electricity cut announcements that power had been restored.
The Russian attacks were also disrupting railways, with the national train service announcing delays throughout the east including the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the Russian attacks were an “act of desperation following Russia’s immense losses and retreat in eastern Ukraine.”
The head of the Dnipropetrovsk region Dmytro Reznichenko said: The Russians hit energy infrastructure. They cannot accept defeat on the battlefield,” he said in a statement online.
AFP journalists in the Donetsk regional city of Kramatorsk meanwhile confirmed the cuts were also impacting one of the largest cities in the east still under Ukrainian control.
‘A strategic victory for Ukraine’
The blackout came as Ukrainian forces claimed to have recaptured dozens of towns and villages in eastern Ukraine forcing Russian troops to retreat on Saturday.
The Ukrainian president on Sunday hailed his troops for ‘liberating’ the key eastern city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region.
In an address to the nation marking 200 days since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy thanked Ukrainian forces who “liberated hundreds of our cities and villages … and most recently Balaklia, Izyum and Kupiansk,” naming three important hubs recently captured by Kyiv’s troops.
The pullback marked the biggest battlefield success for Kyiv’s forces since they thwarted Russia’s attempt to seize the capital Kyiv at the start of the war.
The official reason given for the withdrawal was a strategic “regrouping” of the units.
In the worst defeat for Moscow’s forces since they were repelled from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in March, thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled the city of Izyum, which they had used as a logistics hub.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday, criticised the Russian army’s performance over the weekend.
Ukrainian forces are pushing north in the Kharkiv region and advancing to its south and east, Ukraine’s army chief said on Sunday.
Zelenskyy hailed the offensive as a potential breakthrough in the six-month-old war, and said the winter could see further territorial gains if Kyiv received more powerful weapons.
Observers have said that Ukraine’s strategic gains in the east have provided an “unwavering” international community with evidence of its forces’ capabilities.
“This is a strategic victory for Ukraine – of far greater significance than the defeat of the Russians in Kyiv in March,” Frank Ledwidge of the University of Portsmouth told Al Jazeera.
He said it was strategic because it demonstrates that the Ukrainians can impose losses on the Russians.
“But it’s also a demonstration of their skills and combined arms warfare, and bringing the gear and training they’ve had over the last few months all together to take back an area of land that’s far greater than the Russians have taken since April.”
“It’s very significant and it demonstrates the Ukrainians’ capability with deception,” he added. “It’s an intelligence coup and it’s a remarkable display of Russian ineptitude, particularly in the intelligence realm.”