Our special correspondent in Kharkiv was a few kilometers from the thermal power plant attacked by the Russians in retaliation for the advances of the Ukrainian army.
Kharkiv power plant on fire after shelling.
It was barely 9 p.m., and with the onset of night, Kharkiv was still wary. This second largest city in Ukraine, located less than 80 kilometers from the Russian border, is constantly under attack from missiles launched from the city of Belgorod on the other side.
Kharkiv has also lived, since March, to the sound of the artillery of two armies clashing to the east of the city. The region is one of the main fronts of the war and it is there that, for four days, the Ukrainian army has regained its rights in dozens of villages. A step forward as spectacular as it was unexpected.
That's all people talk about here. The counter-offensive and the exploits of our heroes who succeeded in repelling the enemy to the edge of the Russian border and liberating some forty towns and villages.
But everyone wonders, in the same breath, how the Kremlin will react to the collapse of its army in the region.
In the small dining room of the hostel where we are staying, the curtains are closed and it is strictly forbidden to open them, so as not to let light in at night.
Some guests are gathered for the meal.
At our table, in addition to the usual Radio-Canada team, a 22-year-old young man, Sergii, was added at the last minute. He has just arrived from Hrushivka, one of the villages liberated by Ukraine where his parents have been living under Russian occupation since the spring.
We are hooked on his lips and his stories. Because it's been two days since the army has forbidden us to enter these newly conquered lands which extend over more than 3000 square kilometers.
Sergii has able to go there without any problem to bring food to his parents. They describe the reunion with emotion, photos in support.
selfiesof him, his father and his mother. He says they are fine under the circumstances. They lived the last months at the step of the occupiers with the Russian ruble as the official currency and the propaganda of the Kremlin.
Sergii claims that his parents and their neighbors were not brutalized, but he obviously couldn't survey everyone. (Ukrainian authorities say they are investigating the bodies of four civilians found in a village, which bear marks of torture.)
He describes the state of the place, the equipment, the tanks abandoned by the Russian soldiers who fled.
As we were told Ukrainian officers earlier, Sergii explains that many of the pro-Russian residents who inhabit the area have fled to Russia, along with local collaborators. There are even Ukrainian girls who even fell in love with Russian soldiers who left with them, he says.
Like I said…we were hanging on his lips when the light suddenly went out and the hotel shook.
A series of #x27;explosions nearby. Terrifying, but not amazing.
We found out about 10 minutes later that a missile had hit Kharkiv's largest thermal power plant located a few kilometers away. The whole city is plunged into darkness, says Sergii, who managed to reach a friend on the phone. There is no Internet, no water.
In total more than 9 million Ukrainians are without electricity and water . A terrorist attack, President Volodymyr Zelensky said hours later confirming several missile attacks against critical infrastructure in the northeast and center of the country.
“Even through the darkness, Ukraine and the civilized world clearly see these terrorist acts. Deliberate and cynical missile strikes on civilian critical infrastructure. Not a single military installation. »
— Volodymyr Zelenskly
When we come out of our hiding place (and our stupor) flashlight on the forehead, there is a huge cloud of black smoke rising emerges from the thermal power plant. A smoke so opaque that the moon no longer illuminates the fields.
The steam escaping from the plant makes a racket, it looks like planes.
This is the first time this has happened, says Sergii, who has to leave us for make sure to get on the road and get home before the 10 p.m. curfew.
These attacks on critical infrastructure are indeed the first in a scale since the invasion on February 24.
The night was noisy and more explosions followed.
The next morning, too, attacks were carried out. This time the city center of Kharkiv and part of the territory reconquered by the Ukrainian forces. Specifically in the region of Izium, a city that served as a nerve center for Russian military operations in the Donbass.
After 200 days of war, the tide seems to be turning in Ukraine. kyiv's counter-offensive, launched at the beginning of the month, forced Moscow to retreat in the east of the country. In response, Russian troops are stepping up strikes against civilian infrastructure, including a power plant in Kharkiv, which plunged the region into darkness on Sunday evening. Interview with our special correspondent in Ukraine, Tamara Alteresco.
How to explain such a collapse of the Russian army in such a short time? This counter-offensive will be closely studied for years, a security analyst confides to me, who simply can't believe it.
Because it's the whole northeast bastion which Russia lost without offering resistance. Moscow, for its part, claims to have withdrawn on its own to reposition its soldiers to the east. But the abandoned equipment and the number of soldiers who reportedly surrendered tell a whole different story.
How far will the Ukrainian army go? As far as the Russian border, replies a soldier who says he took part in the liberation of Kupiansk the day before.
And when he mentions the Russian border, it is that of before 2014. He drinks a coffee with a colleague. He is smiling, proud, but not fooled.
The attack on the infrastructure of Kharkiv and its surroundings may be only a foretaste. The missiles do not change the Russian casualties, it is only to demoralize the people.
There was still no power when we left Kharkiv on Monday morning and we had the luxury of packing up and driving west in order to communicate with Montreal and send our reports in time. But for those who stay and endure, winter promises to be difficult, if the war continues.