Ukraine sees 9 fire deaths in 1 day, as civilians struggle to heat homes after Russian attacks

Ukraine's state emergency service said Wednesday that nine people had been killed in fires in the past 24 hours as people broke safety rules trying to heat their homes following Russian attacks on power facilities.

State emergency service says country has seen more than 100 residential fires in past 24 hours

Bakhmut, Ukraine, becomes centre of brutal, drawn-out battle

4 months ago
Duration 2:05
The Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has been the focus of unrelenting Russian attacks for almost six months, creating apocalyptic scenes of dead soldiers in trenches. As winter sets in, Russian troops are mounting an aggressive counter-offensive to recapture the city.

Ukraine's state emergency service said Wednesday that nine people had been killed in fires in the past 24 hours as people broke safety rules trying to heat their homes following Russian attacks on power facilities.

The number of fires has risen, it said, with Ukrainians increasingly resorting to using emergency generators, candles and gas cylinders in their homes because of power outages.

"Only in the last day, there were 131 fires in Ukraine, 106 of them in the residential sector. Nine people died, eight were injured," it said in a statement.

"Generators on balconies, gas cylinders in apartments, lit candles. … Due to violations of fire-safety rules, the use of uncertified products for heating and cooking, incidents of fires and explosions in highrise and private buildings have become more frequent."

The statement urged Ukrainians to take more care in their homes and to explain fire risks to children.

Kyiv resident Rodion Piven rests on a bed while Anna Filatova applies makeup. Their apartment was without power on Wednesday, in the capital's Solomianskyi district. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Struggle to restore power to all

Ukraine is still struggling to restore full power a week after Russian missile strikes damaged energy facilities across the country.

National power grid operator Ukrenergo said the electricity deficit had fallen slightly, from 30 per cent on Tuesday morning to 27 per cent on Wednesday morning.

People sit in a Lviv pub lit with candles during a power outage last Thursday after critical civil infrastructure was hit by Russian missile attacks. (Roman Baluk/Reuters)

Energy consumption has risen as winter sets in. Weather forecasters said temperatures in the capital Kyiv would fall to –6 C overnight and were set to soon drop further.

Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russia of weaponizing winter, as the now-nine-month-old conflict crosses into the coldest parts of the calendar.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told citizens to expect further Russia strikes on energy infrastructure in the days ahead.

'Freeze and starve'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday condemned Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine's power grid and other infrastructure as Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempt to "freeze and starve" the country's people.

Blinken spoke after a meeting with his NATO counterparts in Bucharest, Romania, devoted in part to co-ordinating aid to keep the lights — and furnaces — on in Ukraine.

Food is distributed in the Ukrainian town of Vyshhorod, north of Kyiv, last Friday, to people who lost power in the wake of a Russian rocket attack. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

"Russia has bombed out more than a third of Ukraine's energy system, plunging millions into cold, into darkness, as frigid temperatures set in. Heat. Water. Electricity. For children, for the elderly, for the sick. These are President Putin's new targets. He's hitting them hard," he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has underscored that his country's biggest needs now are electrical gear and more advanced air-defence systems than it has so far received from the U.S. and other allies, to stop Russia from bombing its grid in the first place.

"The best way to help the Ukrainian energy system is to provide both spare parts to restore [the] energy system and air defence systems and ammunition to defend Ukraine's energy system from further missile terror conducted by Russia," Kuleba said.

Tank, mortar and artillery fire

In terms of the ground war, Russian forces tried to advance in Eastern Ukraine and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Kherson in the south, the Ukrainian military said.

In the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine, site of the heaviest fighting, Russian forces tried to make further advances and shelled several towns, including Bakhmut and nearby Soledar and Opytne, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a Wednesday night statement.

A man collects wood to heat his home in Avdiivka, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, earlier this month. His home had been hit by Russian shelling. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

It said that on the southern front, Russian forces took up defensive positions and trained tank, mortar and artillery fire on Ukrainian positions and on the regional capital of Kherson, which was abandoned by Russian troops earlier in November.

Other battleground activity was reported in northeastern and central Ukraine, the military said.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.

"We are analyzing the intentions of the occupiers and preparing counter-measures — tougher countermeasures than is now the case," Zelenskyy said in a Wednesday evening address.

Also Wednesday, the European Union proposed a plan to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia's invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.

Officials in the EU, the U.S. and other Western countries have debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion US of Russia's central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.

Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.

Ukrainian soldiers fire weapons toward a position in the Donetsk region on Tuesday. (Serhii Nuzhnenko/Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe/Reuters)

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News