Russia continues airstrikes on Ukraine's energy infrastructure

Energy supply workers restore a high-voltage line destroyed in Russian missile attack, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Feb 7, 2024. [Reuters]

Russia continued intensified airstrikes Sunday on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure killing two people and downing power plants that will take months to be restored.

A Russian cruise missile strike on Ukraine’s western Lviv region killed a man, destroyed a building and sparked a fire, while in the Kharkiv region, a 19-year-old was killed when a projectile hit a gas station, officials said.

Russia launched 16 missiles and 11 drones across Ukraine in overnight air attacks, Ukraine's air force said Sunday morning.

In a statement on Telegram, the air force said it had managed to down nine of the drones and nine of the missiles. It did not identify their targets.

Hundreds of thousands in Ukraine’s Odesa region were left without power Sunday, after debris from a downed Russian drone caused a blaze at an energy facility, Gov. Oleh Kiper said. Some 170,000 homes suffered power outages due to the attack, said Ukraine’s largest private electricity operator, DTEK.

DTEK, said Saturday that five of its six plants had been damaged or destroyed with 80% of its generating capacity lost, and that repairs could take up to 18 months.

For over a week, Russia has escalated airstrikes against Ukrainian energy facilities, causing significant damage and threatening Ukrainians with a repeat of blackouts they experienced during the first winter of the full-scale war.

Zelenskyy - Easter message

In a message Sunday marking the date when some of Ukraine’s Christians celebrate Easter, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the country to persevere.

“There is not a day or night right now when Russian terror does not try to shatter our lives. Last night, we once again saw rockets and Shaheds [drones] launched against our people,” he said.

“We defend ourselves; we persevere; our spirit does not give up and knows that death can be averted. Life can win,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine’s Catholic, Protestant, and some Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter Sunday according to the Gregorian calendar. Ukraine’s religious majority, Orthodox Christians, follow the Julian calendar, which in 2024 places Easter on May 5.

In 2023, many of Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians began observing Christmas on Dec. 25 in line with the Gregorian calendar, in a move adopted by some of the country’s churches to distance themselves from Russia, which follows the Julian calendar that observes Christmas on January 7.

However, the dates for Easter and other religious holidays have so far remained unchanged and in line with the Julian calendar most Orthodox Christians across the world observe.

Pope Easter message - 'why all this death?'

In his traditional Easter message, Pope Francis called for a cease-fire in Ukraine and Gaza making a plea not to "yield to the logic of weapons and rearming."

"Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts," the 87-year-old pontiff said leading Easter Mass at the Vatican in front of thousands, despite concerns over his health.

Putin conscripts

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree calling up 150,000 citizens for statutory military service, a document posted on the Kremlin's website showed Sunday.

In July, Russia's lower house of parliament voted to raise the maximum age of conscripts to 30 instead of 27. The new legislation came into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Compulsory military service has long been a sensitive issue in Russia, where many men go to great lengths to avoid being handed conscription papers during the twice-yearly call-up periods.

All men in Russia are required to do a year-long military service, or equivalent training during higher education, from the age of 18.

France - Ukraine military aid

France will deliver hundreds of old armored vehicles and new surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said Sunday in an interview with La Tribune Dimanche.

"The Ukrainian army needs to defend a very long front line, which requires armored vehicles; this is absolutely crucial for troop mobility and is part of the Ukrainian requests," Lecornu said.

He said France was looking at providing hundreds of VAB (Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé) front-line troop carriers in 2024 and early 2025.

France's army is gradually replacing its thousands of VABs, which first went into operation in the late 1970s, with a new multi-role troop carrier.

France was also preparing to release a new batch of Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles for the SAMP/T system provided to Kyiv.

The Aster 30 can intercept warplanes, drones and cruise missiles within a range of 120 km (about 74.56 mi).

"Ukraine has an urgent need for better ground-air defense ... Russia is intensifying its strikes, in particular on civilians and civil infrastructure," Lecornu said.

France is also speeding up the development of remotely operated ammunition for delivery to Ukraine as early as this summer, Lecornu added.

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the new Ukraine aid package, after talks he had with his Ukrainian counterpart, the French defense minister said.

Last month Macron floated the possibility of European nations sending troops to Ukraine, but he cautioned that there was no consensus as allies agreed to ramp up efforts to deliver more munitions to Kyiv.

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