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Ukraine war latest: Russia hits Ukraine's largest Hydroelectric Power Plant, kills civilians

by The Kyiv Independent news desk March 23, 2024 12:55 AM 7 min read
The aftermath of a Russian strike on the Dnipro Dam in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on March 22, 2024. (Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal/Telegram)
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Key developments on March 22:

  • Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant hit amid Russian attack on energy infrastructure
  • Air Force: Ukraine downs 92 of 151 Russian aerial targets overnight on March 22
  • Commander: Russia gathers 100,000-strong force, possibly for summer offensive
  • Kremlin admits Russia 'de facto' at war, calls Ukraine 'occupying force'
  • FT: US reportedly tells Ukraine to stop striking Russian oil refineries

Russia launched another large-scale drone and missile attack against Ukrainian cities overnight on March 22, targeting Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Kryvyi Rih, primarily aiming at the energy infrastructure.

Attacks were also reported in Khmelnytskyi, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Vinnytsia, Kirovohrad, Lviv, Sumy, Poltava, and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts.

Regional authorities said that there were at least five killed and 31 injured among the casualties reported so far.

"The enemy launched one of the largest attacks on the Ukrainian energy sector in recent weeks," Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko wrote on Facebook.

"The goal is not just to damage it, but, just like last year, to cause a large-scale disruption in the country's energy system." Russian forces launched a campaign of mass strikes against Ukraine's power grid in late 2022 and early 2023 but failed to put it out of action.

Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant, Ukraine's largest hydroelectric station, was hit during the attack, Ukrhydroenergo announced on March 22.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office reported that the dam was hit multiple times during the attack.

Ukrhydroenergo, the country's state-owned hydropower monopoly, reported fire at the station but said there is no threat of a dam breach, adding that the situation is under control.

Traffic across the Dnipro Dam was blocked following the Russian attack, the police in Zaporizhzhia Oblast said. A trolleybus was hit and caught fire when a Russian projectile targeted the dam, and its 62-year-old driver was killed, Governor Ivan Fedorov said.

No passengers were on board.

Two other civilians have been killed in Zaporizhzhia, including a 35-year-old man and his eight-year-old daughter, Fedorov said. At least 29 people have been reported as injured.

Russian forces also struck the energy infrastructure in the city of Kharkiv, leading to a near-complete loss of power in the city. At least 15 explosions were reported.

The State Emergency Service reported in the morning following the attack that 700,000 Kharkiv residents were left without power.

Regional authorities also said that critical infrastructure was hit in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, namely in Kryvyi Rih, as well as in the Pavlohrad, Kamianske, and Dnipro districts. No casualties were reported.

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Air Force: Ukraine downs 92 of 151 Russian aerial targets overnight on March 22

Ukrainian air defenses downed 37 missiles and 55 Shahed-type drones overnight on March 22 during a mass Russian attack, Ukraine's Air Force reported.

Russia launched 151 missiles and drones in total overnight, targeting the cities of Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kryvyi Rih, and elsewhere, primarily aiming at the energy infrastructure.

Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro Hydroelectric Station, Ukraine's largest hydroelectric power plant, was among the damaged facilities.

According to the Air Force's report, 55 Shahed-type drones, 35 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles, and two Kh-59 guided cruise missiles were downed by Ukrainian forces.

Russian troops used in total 63 Shahed-type drones, 12 Iskander-M ballistic missiles, 40 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles, five Kh-22 cruise missiles, seven Kh-47 M2 (Kinzhal) aeroballistic missiles, 22 S-300/S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, and two Kh-59 guided cruise missiles during the mass attack on Ukraine.

The drones were reportedly launched from the direction of Primorsko-Akhtarsk in Russia's Krasnodar Krai, while the missiles were carried out from Belgorod, Tambov, Kursk, Rostov oblasts, the Caspian Sea, and the occupied territories of Crimea and Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Ukraine's air defense is in an increasingly difficult situation as ammunition supplies from the U.S., a key military donor, remain blocked due to political disputes in Congress.

President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the Russian attack, adding that "Russian missiles do not have delays" and stressing Ukraine's need for additional air defense systems.

UPDATE: 3 killed, 29 injured in Zaporizhzhia as rescue operations conclude
Search and rescue operations at the sites of a Russian missile attack on Zaporizhzhia on March 22 have ended, the State Emergency Service reported. The attack killed three people and injured 27.

Commander: Russia gathers 100,000-strong force, possibly for summer offensive

Russia is creating a force of 100,000 soldiers, possibly to conduct a new offensive in early summer, Ukraine's Ground Forces Commander Oleksandr Pavliuk said on national television on March 22.

The Armed Forces withdrew in February from several settlements in Donetsk Oblast, including the key front-line city of Avdiivka, due to severe ammunition shortages exacerbated by delays in U.S. aid.

Heavy battles continue in Kherson, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhizhia oblasts as Russian troops try to continue their advance.

Pavliuk noted that the new force Russia is mustering might also serve another purpose: "Maybe they (Russia) will use them to replenish units that are losing their combat capability."

Russian troops continue their assault attempts in the Bakhmut, Lyman, and Avdiivka directions of the front, according to Pavliuk. In Sumy Oblast, Russian forces are not preparing any new military formations but target civilian infrastructure to threaten citizens, he added.

"I think we will do everything we can to stop them (Russian attacks)," Pavliuk said.

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Kremlin admits Russia 'de facto' at war, calls Ukraine 'occupying force'

In an unexpected admission, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on March 22 that Russia is in a "state of war."

Peskov also said that Russia's main goal was to protect the people living in the Ukrainian territories illegally annexed by Russia, going on to characterize Ukraine as an "occupying force."

Peskov later clarified his words, saying that "de jure" it remained a "military operation," but "de facto" had become a war.

Russia refuses to refer to its war against Ukraine as a war, referring to it instead as a "special military operation" for propaganda purposes and to downplay its actions for both domestic and international audiences. Russia's choice of wording plays a key part in the framing of its full-scale war.

Under Russian law, it is forbidden to actually call it a war or an invasion, and violating these restrictions can lead to punishment, including a potential prison sentence.

Elaborating on his presentation of Russia's war goals, Peskov said that Russia "cannot allow the existence of a state on its borders" that seeks to "take away Crimea," illigaly occupied by Russia since 2014.

Crimea is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly stated that Ukraine's ultimate goal is the liberation of all occupied areas of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, and that any other result of the war would "not be victory."

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FT: US reportedly tells Ukraine to stop striking Russian oil refineries

The U.S. reportedly warned Ukraine to stop attacking Russian oil refineries, cautioning that strikes against the facilities could raise global oil prices and increase the risk of further retaliation, the Financial Times (FT) reported on March 22, citing unnamed sources in Ukraine's military intelligence and Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

In the past weeks, Ukrainian forces have launched a series of drone strikes aimed at damaging Russia's oil industry. Ukraine has hit oil refineries in multiple regions deep inside the Russian territory.

As foreign military aid has decreased, especially due to the ongoing deadlock on funding from the U.S., Ukraine has turned to focus on its domestically produced attack capabilities.

The sources told the FT that the U.S. is concerned Russia could potentially retaliate by striking energy infrastructure used by the West, which could result in higher energy prices globally.

At the same time, Russia is highly reliant on revenue from its energy exports to fund its war machine, and the attacks on the refineries have already caused significant disruptions.

While U.S. President Joe Biden has regularly repeated his support for Ukraine and willingness to prevent a Russian victory, he is also facing a reelection battle later this year.

An analyst told the FT that the U.S.'s warnings could be primarily related to electoral politics.

"Nothing terrifies a sitting American president more than a surge in pump prices during an election year," said Bob McNally, the president of the consultancy group Rapidan Energy and a former White House energy adviser.

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