KHERSON, UKRAINE (AP) — Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine overnight as utility crews continued a scramble to restore power, water and heating following widespread strikes in recent weeks, officials said Sunday.
With persistent snowfall blanketing the capital, Kyiv, Sunday, analysts predicted that wintry weather — bringing with it frozen terrain and grueling fighting conditions — could have an increasing impact on the direction of the conflict that has raged since Russian forces invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.
But for the moment, both sides were bogged down by heavy rain and muddy battlefield conditions in some areas, experts said.
After a blistering barrage of Russian artillery strikes on at least two occasions over the past two weeks, infrastructure teams in Ukraine were fanning out in around-the-clock deployments to restore key basic services as many Ukrainians dealt with only a few hours of electricity per day — if any.
Ukrenergo, the state power grid operator, said Sunday that electricity producers are now supplying about 80% of demand. That’s an improvement from Saturday’s 75 percent, the company says.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that has been closely monitoring developments in Ukraine, said reporting from both sides indicated that heavy rain and mud have had an impact — but wider freezing expected along the front lines in coming days could play a role.
“It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting,” it said in a note published Saturday.
ISW said Russian forces were digging in further east of the city of Kherson, from which they were expelled by Ukrainian forces more than two weeks ago, and continued “routine artillery fire” across the Dnipro River.
In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, according to governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. Overnight shelling was reported by regional leaders in the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west.
Kharkiv governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.
A day earlier, a long column of cars, vans and trucks caravanned away from the recently liberated city of Kherson after intense shelling in recent days and amid concerns more pummeling from the Russian forces nearby could loom again in coming days.
Galina Lugova, head of the city’s military administration, said in an interview Sunday that evacuation trains had been lined up and bomb shelters set up in all city districts with stoves, beds, first aid kits and fire extinguishers.
“Everything you need,” she said.
“We are preparing for a winter in difficult conditions, but we will do everything to make people safe,” Lugova said. Her biggest worry, she said, was “shelling that intensifies every day. Shelling, shelling and shelling again.”
On the roads out of the city, some residents felt they had no choice but to leave.
“The day before yesterday, artillery hit our house. Four flats burned down. Windows shattered,” said Vitaliy Nadochiy, driving out with a terrier on his lap and a Ukrainian flag dangling from a sun visor. “We can’t be there. There is no electricity, no water, heating. So we are leaving to go to my brother.”
Keaten reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.