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By Dan Peleschuk and Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Russia launched missiles across Ukraine on Wednesday, forcing the closure of nuclear power plants and killing civilians as Moscow continues its campaign to plunge Ukraine’s cities into darkness and cold as winter approaches.

Officials along the border in Moldova said electricity was also out in more than half of their country, the first time a neighboring state has reported such extensive damage from the war in Ukraine triggered by Russia’s invasion nine months ago.

A blackout forced the shutdown of reactors at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear plant in southern Ukraine and at the Khmelnitskyi and Rivne plants in the west, state nuclear power company Energoatom said.

“At the moment they (power units) work in project mode, without generation in the domestic energy system”, stated Energoatom.

Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine in a national alert. Explosions could be heard on the outskirts of Kiev, which was plunged into darkness. City officials said one person was killed and another injured in a two-story building that was hit.

Earlier, Russian missiles hit a maternity hospital in the Zaporizhzhia region overnight, killing a baby, the regional governor said on the Telegram messaging service. Explosions were also reported in other cities, where information about casualties was not immediately available.

Since October, Russia has openly acknowledged targeting Ukraine’s civilian power and heating systems with long-range missiles and drones. Moscow says the aim is to reduce Kiev’s combat capability and force it to negotiate; Ukraine says attacks on infrastructure are a war crime with the deliberate intent to harm civilians.

Moldova, like Ukraine, a former Soviet republic once dominated by Moscow, has long worried about the prospect of fighting spreading across its borders.

“Huge blackout in Moldova following today’s Russian attack on Ukraine’s power infrastructure,” Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spuni said on Twitter, adding that the grid operator was trying to reconnect “more than 50% of the country to electricity” .

Moldova, which shares a language with neighboring NATO member Romania, has a pro-Western government that aims to join the European Union. Russian troops have occupied a swath of Moldova along the Ukrainian border claimed for 30 years by pro-Russian separatists.

With the first snow falling of Ukraine’s usually freezing winter, officials worry about the impact of power cuts affecting millions of people.

In an overnight video speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that special “invincibility centers” would be set up in Ukraine to provide electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, free of charge and 24 hours a day.

The attacks on Ukraine’s power facilities come after a series of Russian setbacks on the battlefield, culminating this month in a retreat from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnipro River, which runs through the country.

A week after Kherson was retaken by Ukrainian forces, residents were tearing down Russian propaganda billboards and replacing them with pro-Ukrainian posters.

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