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Russian airstrikes cause electricity outages, but Ukraine says it shot down missiles

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Russia's military unleashed another large-scale air strike against Ukraine's electricity system today. Russia had been waging this sustained campaign for the past two months as winter was setting in, and now winter has very much arrived in Ukraine.

For details on today's attack, we're joined now by NPR's Greg Myre in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So how extensive exactly was today's attack?

MYRE: Russia fired at least 70 missiles at the electricity systems in cities all across Ukraine. This is very similar in scale to the previous attacks that have been taking place since October. The Russians have been spacing them out about a week or two apart. And it's been nearly - or it was nearly two weeks since the previous one. So Ukrainians were a bit edgy expecting a new attack any day. And when the air raid sirens went off this afternoon, many people here in Kyiv ducked into the subways and stayed there for at least a couple of hours until they got the all clear.

About a half dozen cities around the country, though not here in Kyiv, electricity and in some cases, water has been knocked out. This is certainly significant. These Ukrainians will have a long, cold night. But nationwide, it was not nearly as bad as some of the previous attacks.

CHANG: Well, how were the Ukrainians able to limit the damage this time?

MYRE: Ukraine's air force says it shot down more than 60 of these 70 missiles that Russia fired. Now, if this is accurate, this is even higher than usual. And for Ukraine, it's certainly a good sign that they seem to be adapting to these attacks. We should also note that they recently received some new Western air defense systems, though we don't know exactly what role they played.

Now, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy put out a short video just very quickly after the attacks had finished. He said, quote, "air defenses shot down most of the missiles. Energy workers are already starting to restore the electricity. Our people never give up." Now, that said, Ukraine may not always be this successful. Both Ukraine and Russia are believed to be running low on missiles. And if this keeps up all winter, as certainly people expect, it could come down to who has more missiles at the end of the day.

CHANG: Well, as Ukraine is getting hit, how in general are Ukrainians holding up, given that there is a long winter ahead?

MYRE: They're certainly getting by. We certainly see a lot of resilience here, but they know the power system is very precarious. I mean, even on a good day, power cuts are virtually universal. You probably have to go without lights or heat for at least one four-hour block, and that can easily become eight or 12 hours a day. Now, the Ukrainians make the repairs very quickly, but it is running low on replacement equipment, high voltage transformers in particular. And that's exactly what the Russians are targeting.

And as you noted, winter is here. It was 17 degrees in Kyiv this morning. It never got above 23 degrees. Kyiv's mayor is urging the city's 3 million residents to go spend the winter with relatives in the countryside where you can burn wood for heat. But so far, people are staying put. They want to stay in their homes, and they see this as resistance to the Russians.

CHANG: Well, I understand that there were also explosions deep inside Russia today. What more can you tell us about that?

MYRE: Yeah, this was pretty unusual. The Russian military is blaming Ukrainian drones for explosions at two separate bases deep inside Russia. And what is really significant about this is both of these bases are well over 200, 300 miles inside Russia. Now, there have been periodic attacks on Russian bases inside its own territory but not this deep inside. So you have to think the Russian military is at least a little bit rattled knowing that some valuable planes at some valuable bases deep inside Russia now appear to be at risk.

CHANG: Indeed. That is NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv. Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.