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Russia strikes power plants in heavy blow to Ukrainian electric grid

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KYIV — Large-scale Russian bombing Thursday night damaged at least three energy stations in Ukraine, leaving parts of the country without power as President Volodymyr Zelensky urgently appealed to the Republican leadership in Congress to approve a stalled aid package amid relentless Russian airstrikes.

DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power provider, said three of its thermal power stations were targeted in the overnight barrage, which the Ukrainian military said included dozens of missiles and at least 60 explosive drones aimed at energy infrastructure.

Ukraine’s air force said 84 of 99 targets were shot down, but Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, posting on social media, said the Russian strikes damaged energy assets in six regions. In some areas, that required emergency shutdowns.

Zelensky, in a post on the Telegram messaging platform, said Russian missiles and drones had targeted two dams, the Kaniv Hydroelectric Power Plant and the Dnister Hydroelectric Power Plant. He accused Moscow of attempting “a repeat of the ecological disaster in the Kherson region” — a reference to the collapse of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine last year, which caused catastrophic flooding. Ukraine blamed Russia for the explosion that destroyed the dam.

For months, Ukrainian officials had been pleading with their Western counterparts for more air defenses, warning that Russia was likely to step up its aerial attacks. Last year, Moscow targeted Ukraine’s energy grid all winter, but those attacks became less effective after Kyiv received better air-defense systems, such as the U.S.-designed Patriot.

Now, with resources dwindling in Ukraine amid the Republican blockage of a $60 billion aid package proposed by the Biden administration, Moscow appears to be capitalizing on a moment of weakness.

Zelensky said Thursday he spoke with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who for the last month has blocked a vote on the aid package. Johnson refused to include it in a major spending measure that Congress adopted earlier this month to keep the U.S. government financed through the remainder of the fiscal year.

Zelensky, posting on social media, said he briefed Johnson “on the battlefield situation, specifically the dramatic increase in Russia’s air terror.”

“In this situation, quick passage of US aid to Ukraine by Congress is vital,” Zelensky said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We recognize that there are differing views in the House of Representatives on how to proceed, but the key is to keep the issue of aid to Ukraine as a unifying factor.”

Thursday’s attack followed a similar strike a week ago that caused rolling blackouts in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region. Power still has not been fully restored in that area. Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko called that “the largest attack on the Ukrainian energy sector in recent times.”

In a written reply to questions submitted by The Washington Post, DTEK’s press office said that “Russian drone and missiles are increasingly penetrating Ukraine’s air defenses. Compounding this increased threat, its attacks are becoming a lot more accurate and concentrated, therefore inflicting greater damage on vital equipment.”

The provider said it lost “around half” of its generating capacity in the strikes on its infrastructure last week. In a statement, DTEK chief executive Maxim Timchenko said that Ukraine “urgently need[s] air defense ammunition.”

“Without more military supplies, Russia only grows bolder,” he added. “We urge our partners in the U.S. and elsewhere to make this investment in Europe’s defense.”

The surge in attacks — and concern that Ukraine’s resources to stop them may be running out — is almost certain to deal another blow to the country’s weakened wartime economy. Ukrainian officials had worked to attract investment and the return of millions of Ukrainians living abroad by touting the country’s improved air-defense capabilities.

“After a night like this I am especially worried if our Air Defense Forces have enough of ammunition to take down the threats that appear every night,” lawmaker Kira Rudik wrote Friday morning on X, expressing a sentiment shared by many Ukrainians.

Though Thursday night’s bombardment targeted regions in central and western Ukraine, far from the front line, Russia’s intensified aerial campaign is evident on the battlefield, too.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s military chief, said in an interview published Friday that the “experience of the past months and weeks shows that the enemy has significantly increased aircraft activity, using KABs — guided air bombs that destroy our positions.”

Syrsky added that Russia’s punishing use of guided air bombs and a shortage of artillery ammunition were the biggest factors in Ukraine’s withdrawal from the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka last month. Russia fires six times as much as Ukraine, Syrsky said.

Meanwhile, nine people suspected of involvement in last week’s deadly terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall, a concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow, were detained in Tajikistan, according to local media, citing security officials. The four men charged with attacking concertgoers using automatic weapons and setting the building on fire are all Tajik citizens.

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Friday that another victim had died, bringing the death toll to 144. Another 69 people remain hospitalized.

Friday also marked exactly one year since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, a city in Russia’s Urals.

The detention, the first of a foreign correspondent since the Cold War, has had a chilling effect on journalism in Russia and has marked a new, darker phase of hostage diplomacy between Russia and the West.

Despite having journalistic accreditation, Gershkovich is accused of espionage, a charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Gershkovich, the White House and his employer all vehemently deny the espionage accusation.

Since being detained at Lefortovo prison in Moscow last March, Gershkovich has not stood trial. Instead, authorities repeatedly have extended his pretrial detention every few months. Last week, a Moscow court did so again, ordering him held until the end of June.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal published a blank front page to signify where Gershkovich’s reporting might have appeared if he was not imprisoned.

“It is well past time for this talented reporter and innocent man to come home,” Emma Tucker, the Journal’s editor in chief, wrote in a statement. “Evan has shown remarkable willpower, strength and even humor during his wrongful detention. We are amazed at his — and his family’s — steadfastness in the face of such a harrowing ordeal.”

On Thursday, the German government urged its citizens not to travel to Russia, warning of the “very big danger” of summary detention.

Ebel reported from Berlin.

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