Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s new strategy to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and plunge it into darkness would not weaken the country’s resolve to liberate all occupied territories, describing the conflict as a “war of strength and flexibility.”
Pushing back against Western fears of escalation, Ukraine’s president insisted there would be no lasting solution to the war unless Russia withdraws from the territories it has occupied.
Moscow has stepped up its bombardment of critical infrastructure in Ukraine since last month, hoping to force concessions from Kiev despite its progress on the battlefield.
“We must return all the land. . . because I think the battlefield is the way when there is no diplomacy,” Zelenskyy told the Financial Times. “If you can’t get your land back completely, the war will simply freeze. It is only a matter of time before it continues.”
On Wednesday, Russia fired 70 missiles at infrastructure targets across Ukraine, leaving about 80 percent of the country in darkness and without water. All 15 of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors were shut down because electricity became unstable.
Zelensky, in the presidential office, which also lost its water supply, said this week’s strike was unthinkable in the modern world.
“It was a case that hadn’t happened in I don’t know how many years, maybe 80, 90 years: a country on the European continent where there was no light at all.”
He said the Ukrainians could despair or fight. “The state fought back in a great way. The energy workers, the state emergency department, the deminers, everyone was working to restore and restore power and provide at least some water.
By Thursday morning, the nuclear reactors had been turned back on, and the water had turned on in some districts of the capital, Kyiv. “This war is about strength, about resilience, about who stands stronger.”
Even before Wednesday’s strikes, half of the country’s electricity system was shut down by Russian missile attacks, resulting in continuous blackouts for millions of people. After the water supply to the entire capital was cut off in Kiev this week, some residents were forced to collect snow to melt for washing and cooking.
Ukraine is running out of replacement transformers for its Soviet-era power grid after repeated Russian missile strikes hit its grid. It is sourcing spare parts from Poland and Lithuania and wants to ramp up domestic production, but new units take four to eight months to assemble.
Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukraine needs hundreds of millions of dollars in aid – in addition to ongoing budget support – to urgently repair its electricity system.
Zelensky also asked Ukraine’s Western partners to provide more air defense equipment to protect critical infrastructure, as well as diesel supplies for emergency generators and additional gas to offset power shortages.
The president said the attacks on civilian infrastructure showed Moscow had no intention of negotiating an end to the war.
Kyiv backed off under perceived pressure to show its openness to a possible negotiated solution to the war. Some Western partners fear that any attempt by Ukraine to retake Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, which it considers crucial to its security, could lead to a dangerous escalation by Moscow, including the use of nuclear weapons.
As Ukrainian forces have advanced against Russian forces in the south and east, Ukraine’s military goals have hardened, seeking to recapture territory captured since February and captured during the 2014 Russian offensive.
Zelensky acknowledged that the fate of Crimea is increasingly important on the international agenda.
“I understand that everyone is confused about the situation and what will happen to Crimea. If someone is ready to offer us a way to occupy Crimea by non-military means, then I will only support it,” Zelensky said. “If the solution [does not involve] busyness and [Crimea] part of the Russian Federation, no one should waste their time on this. It’s a waste of time.”