At least three killed in Russian missile strikes on Ukraine

  • Missile attack was one of largest of war - Kyiv official
  • Critical infrastructure hit in several areas
  • 'Colossal' damage in northeast city of Kharkiv

KYIV, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Russia rained down scores of missiles on Ukraine's power grid on Friday, killing at least three people, damaging nine energy facilities and forcing Kyiv to introduce emergency blackouts across the country as winter bites.

Many people headed for shelters during the morning rush hour to take cover from the latest big attack on vital infrastructure since October, which a Kyiv official described as one of the largest missile barrages since Russia invaded in February.

The mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, reported "colossal" damage, threatening to leave many people without heating in freezing winter temperatures. The governor of the central region of Dnipropetrovsk reported "serious damage".

Air defences took out 60 out of 76 incoming missiles fired at critical infrastructure, Ukraine's top general said. Moscow deliberately tried to distract the air defences by flying warplanes near Ukraine, Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said.

"They want to destroy us, and make us slaves. But we will not surrender. We will endure," said Lidiya Vasilieva, 53, as she headed for shelter at a Kyiv railway station. "I want the war over and soon. But I am ready to wait as long as needed."

Three people were killed in the central city of Kryvyi Rih, authorities said, and a fourth died in a fire in the southern Kherson region after an apartment block was hit by shelling before the missile strike.

The attack in Kryvyi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's hometown, also wounded at least 13 people, including four small children, a senior official said.

Grid operator Ukrenergo warned that repair times would be longer compared with previous ones and that it would take longer to restore power.

"What we already see is damage to about nine (power) generating facilities. Now we are still verifying the damage," Energy Minister German Galushchenko told national television.

The central city of Poltava and parts of Kyiv were among areas where power was knocked out. Critical infrastructure was hit in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, the Black Sea region of Odesa and in Vinnytsia in west central Ukraine.

Three loud blasts were heard in Kyiv and smoke wafted overhead, Reuters witnesses said. Some railway lines were left without power.

"There is colossal damage to infrastructure, primarily the energy system," Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. "I ask you to be patient with what is happening now. I know that in your houses there is no light, no heating, no water supply."

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Zelenskiy's office, said emergency power shutdowns had been introduced nationwide to enable repairs.

UKRAINE REMAINS DEFIANT

The initial air alert in Kyiv was lifted four hours after it was announced as children made their way to school and people travelled to work.

The cavernous Kyiv metro system, which has one of the deepest stations in the world, stopped functioning and was used as a bomb shelter.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, Moscow says attacks on basic infrastructure are militarily legitimate. Ukraine says attacks intended to cause civilian misery are a war crime.

"The goal of the Russian Federation is for Ukrainians to be constantly under pressure, to go down into bomb shelters almost every day, to feel discomfort due to power outages or water interruptions," Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko wrote on Facebook.

"But Ukraine's position is unchanged: let it be without light, but #withoutyou. We will endure. We will win. We will rebuild."

Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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