Bombed but not beaten: Ukraine’s capital flips to survival mode amid Russian strikes

Residents of Ukraine’s bombed but undaunted capital city Kyiv clutched empty bottles in search of water and crowded into cafes for power and warmth on Thursday (local time), switching defiantly into survival mode after new Russian missile strikes a day earlier plunged the city and much of the country into the dark.

In scenes hard to believe in a sophisticated city of 3 million, some Kyiv residents resorted to collecting rainwater from drainpipes, as repair teams labored to reconnect supplies.

Friends and family members exchanged messages to find out who had electricity and water back. Some had one but not the other. The previous day’s aerial assault on Ukraine’s power grid left many with neither.

Cafes in Kyiv that by some small miracle had both quickly become oases of comfort.

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Oleksiy Rashchupkin, a 39-year-old investment banker, woke up to find that water had been reconnected to his third-floor flat but power had not. His freezer thawed in the blackout, leaving a puddle on his floor.

So he hopped in a cab and crossed the Dnieper River from left bank to right, to a cafe that he’d noticed had stayed open after previous Russian strikes. Sure enough, it was open, serving hot drinks, hot food and with the music and wi-fi on.

“I’m here because there is heating, coffee and light,” he said. “Here is life.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 70% of the Ukrainian capital was still without power on Thursday morning (local time).

Residents of Ukraine's bombed but not cowed capital roamed the streets with empty bottles in search of water.

John Leicester/AP

Residents of Ukraine’s bombed but not cowed capital roamed the streets with empty bottles in search of water.

With cold rain falling and the remnants of a previous snowfall still on the streets, the mood was grim but steely. The winter promises to be a long one. But Ukrainians say that if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention is to break them, then he should think again.

“Nobody will compromise their will and principles just for electricity,” said Alina Dubeiko, 34. She, too, sought out the comfort of another, equally crowded, warm and lit cafe. Without electricity, heating and water at home, she was determined to keep up her work routine. Adapting to life shorn of her usual comforts, Dubeiko said she uses two glasses of water to wash, then ties her hair in a ponytail and is ready for her working day.

She said she’d rather live without power than live with the Russian invasion, which crossed the nine-month mark on Thursday (local time).

“Without light or you? Without you,” she said, echoing remarks Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky made when Russia on October 10 unleashed the first of what has now become a series of aerial attacks on key Ukrainian infrastructure.

People gather their belongings from a damaged house after Russian shelling in the town of Vyshgorod outside the capital Kiev.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

People gather their belongings from a damaged house after Russian shelling in the town of Vyshgorod outside the capital Kiev.

Western leaders denounced the bombing campaign. “Strikes against civilian infrastructures are war crimes,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov sought to shift blame for civilian hardship on Ukraine’s government.

“Ukraine’s leadership has every opportunity to bring the situation back to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way as to meet the demands of the Russian side and, accordingly, end all possible suffering of the civilian population,” Peskov said .

The Russian military said Wednesday’s attacks that utilized “high-precision weapons” targeted “the military command and control system of Ukraine and energy facilities related to it”, disrupting the movement of Ukrainian army troops, foreign weapons, military equipment and ammunition to combat areas .

Kyiv residents clutch empty bottles in search of water.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Kyiv residents clutch empty bottles in search of water.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said that “not a single strike” was aimed at targets within the city of Kyiv and blamed reported damage in the Ukrainian capital on falling missiles fired from “foreign and Ukrainian air defense systems” deployed in the city’s residential areas .

In Kyiv, people lined up at public water points to fill plastic bottles. In a strange new wartime first for her, 31-year-old Health Department employee Kateryna Luchkina resorted to collecting rainwater from a drainpipe, so she could at least wash her hands at work, which had no water. She filled two plastic bottles, waiting patiently in the rain until they had water to the brim. A colleague followed behind her, doing the same.

“We Ukrainians are so resourceful, we will think of something. We do not lose our spirit,” Luchkina said. “We work, live in the rhythm of survival or something, as much as possible. We do not lose hope that everything will be fine.”

The mayor said on Telegram that power engineers “are doing their best” to restore electricity. Water repair teams were making progress, too. In the early afternoon, Klitschko announced that water supplies had been restored across the capital, with the caveat that “some consumers may still experience low water pressure”.

Kyiv has switched into survival mode after new Russian missile strikes plunged the city into the dark.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Kyiv has switched into survival mode after new Russian missile strikes plunged the city into the dark.

Power, heat and water were gradually coming back elsewhere, too. In Ukraine’s southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, the governor announced that 3000 miners who were trapped underground because of power blackouts had been rescued. Regional authorities posted messages on social media updating people on the progress of repairs but also saying they needed time.

Mindful of the hardships – both now and ahead, as winter progresses – authorities are opening thousands of so-called “points of invincibility” – heated and powered spaces offering hot meals, electricity and internet connections. More than 3700 were open across the country on Thursday morning (local time), said a senior official in the presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

In the southern city of Kherson, recaptured two weeks ago by Ukrainian forces, hospitals’ struggle with the loss of power and water is compounded by stepped up Russian strikes.

Olena Zhura was carrying bread to her neighbors when a strike that destroyed half of her house in Kherson wounded her husband Victor. Paramedics whisked Victor away as he writhed in pain.

“I was shocked,” she said, welling up with tears. “Then I heard (him) shouting: ‘Save me, save me.'”

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