Nearly 500,000 people have been left without power after an overloaded electrical substation in Odesa, Ukraine's southern port city on the Black Sea, caught fire, while the temperature in Odesa stood at 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit) Saturday and is forecast to drop below freezing for much of next week.
Ukrainian officials warned that repairs could take weeks. According to The Washington Post, regional Governor Maksym Marchenko said he did not have a timeline for when power would be restored to the city.
The CEO of the state grid operator Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said critical equipment that had already been damaged several times by Russian missile strikes burst into flames when it could no longer 'withstand the load,' delivering a fresh blow to the country's ailing energy grid that has been pounded by Russian strikes for months.
"[The equipment] has been struck so many times that its state leaves much to be desired,' Kudrytskyi told a briefing in Odesa.
The Ukrainian government said it would appeal to Turkey to send vessels that carry power plants to Odesa and ordered the energy ministry's nationwide stocks of high-power generators to be delivered to the city within a day.
'We will do everything we can for the improvement of the power supply situation to take days rather than weeks,' he said.
Kudrytskyi warned any further Russian missile or drone attacks could make the situation even worse.
Missiles from Moscow
Since October, Moscow has waged a campaign of massive missile attacks on the energy infrastructure. Moscow claims the strikes aim to reduce Ukraine's ability to fight; Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians.
Russia has formally integrated occupied areas of Ukraine into Russia's Southern Military District, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence report. The agency said news of the integration is based on a Tass report that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions are being placed under the three-star command based in Rostov-on-Don.
The report said the move is "unlikely to have an immediate impact," however, on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Oil price cap
The Group of Seven industrialized countries agreed Friday on a price cap for refined Russian oil exports.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in statement that the agreement follows a similar price cap on Russian crude oil exports set in December and 'helps advance our goals of limiting Russia's key revenue generator in funding its illegal war' in Ukraine.
Officials say the cap is at two levels - $100 per barrel for Russian diesel and other fuels that sell for more than crude, and $45 per barrel for Russian oil products that sell for less than the price of crude, such as fuel oil.
The price caps come as a European Union ban on Russian oil product imports is set to go into force Sunday.
Earlier Friday, European Union officials pledged their unwavering support to help Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure against Russia's ongoing war, while the U.S. announced a new round of security assistance worth more than $2 billion.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv for the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit. The EU officials said the union will support Ukraine 'for as long as it takes.'
In a joint statement Friday, the officials promised to help rebuild Ukraine's devastated critical infrastructure, providing energy support and services for the country 'to get through the winter,' and beyond. They said that so far, the EU and its member states have provided assistance worth $570 million in the areas of energy and reconstruction, and another $525 million for humanitarian efforts.
The officials underscored their commitment to promote Ukraine's integration into the European Union, but they said there was no promise of fast-track membership.
Kyiv applied to become an EU member shortly after Russia's invasion and wants to start formal accession talks as soon as possible.
'There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you have to reach,' von der Leyen told the news conference in response to a question about Ukraine's accession drive. One of the conditions for Ukraine's EU integration is its fight against corruption. The EU Commission president praised Kyiv for its expanded efforts to clamp down on graft.
Michel and von der Leyen condemned Russia's escalating war against Ukraine and its citizens as 'a manifest violation of international law, including the principles of the U.N. Charter.' They emphasized the need to establish a Special Tribunal at The Hague for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes against Ukraine.
They also emphasized that the EU will never recognize as lawful any illegal annexation of Ukraine by Russia.
In addition, the EU officials unveiled a new package of sanctions, the 10th, against Russia. It will target the trade and technology that supports its war against Ukraine, von der Leyen said.
U.S. defense assistance
The U.S. announced Friday it would provide an additional $2.175 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, including conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARs, as well as other munitions and weapons. According to a U.S. official, the longer-range precision-guided rockets would double Ukraine's strike range for the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
During a news briefing Friday, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the aid includes 'critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition.'
Ryder added that 'as part of the USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative] package, we will be providing Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine.'
Friday's aid package opens the door to many more deliveries of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs, which have a range of 94 miles, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.
In total, the U.S. has supplied nearly $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, the Defense Department reports. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and more than $29.3 billion since the beginning of Russia's unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.