Ukraine is facing a humanitarian crisis in winter unless it can prevent the collapse of its electricity supply caused by Russia’s relentless bombing campaign, the country’s main grid manager said.
Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, chief executive of Ukrenergo, said “almost all” of the country’s non-nuclear power stations had been hit, as well as more than 30% of the network’s stations.
Describing the position as important, the energy chief said Ukraine had asked western countries to get the necessary facilities last week – and was also calling for missile defense systems to prevent deadly attacks.
“This is the largest missile attack on electrical infrastructure in history. So, the impact is huge. Unfortunately the situation is critical. They are trying to directly destroy the energy system of Ukraine, and this provides tens of millions of citizens,” he said.
If the Russian attack continued, “the reduction of energy in Ukraine will be longer and longer”, Kudrytskyi warned, adding that despite the efforts of Ukrenergo, it was not possible to fix the grid as quickly as it was destroyed. “It’s obviously much easier to launch missiles than to restore stations,” he said.
The focus now is to keep the lights on. “Before this missile attack, the main goal was to provide as much power as our customers needed. However, now we are talking about the survival of the system,” Kudrytskyi told the Guardian during an airstrike alert in Kyiv.
The electricity was necessary to maintain the gas supply, the chief executive said. “If customers will spend more time without electricity, and if heating systems are not connected to electricity, that will create huge humanitarian problems.” He said that Russia wants to create a “social disaster” in Ukraine.
Power outages that last for several hours have become widespread in many parts of the country after a sustained Russian bombing campaign targeting the power grid that began last month.
Currently Ukrainians seem to be coping with uncertainty and more difficulties without much complaint, accepting it as an inevitable challenge that they must overcome.
Under the title “No Power?”, a co-operative in Kyiv, Kooperativ Kyiv, has announced that it has two power supplies and two internet providers so that people can work without being interrupted by blackouts. “We will get through these times together,” the announcement read.
Ihor Sudakov, who lives near a power station east of Kyiv that has been hit repeatedly, said he tried to prepare for another evacuation. “We bought power banks – we keep at least three charged at a time,” he said. “We also ordered this type of charging station that can charge the fridge and stove. Our building only has electricity so if the electricity goes out we need to be able to cook.” As a double backup, he said, he bought a propane camping stove.
I’m not worried that Russia will try to beat it [Kyjv] power station again – I know they will. It’s part of their terrorist tactics … so it’s about trying to be as independent as possible. “
An attack involving 55 missiles and five drones took place on Monday, targeting the country’s hydro plants for the first time. Russian missiles are targeting hydroelectric power plants, Kudrytskyi said, but not the dams themselves, which are considered more robust.
Although 44 missiles were said to have been captured by Ukraine, the damage done on Monday was significant, the commander-in-chief said. “It was consistent with the scale of the attack, it was very large. This was a great attack; great damage [was] done.”
On Monday, 350,000 homes lost power in Kyiv and 80% of the water supply was disrupted after the attack, although both were restored on Tuesday. Another 20,000 remained without supply in the Kyiv region, said the governor, Oleksiy Kuleba.
In Kharkiv, where the main power station was damaged on Monday, Kharkiv hospital number 4 has been working on reduced electricity – 180W instead of 220W – and there were concerns that this could damage the hospital’s equipment, said Oleksandr Dukhovsky, head of children. surgery at the hospital.
He also said that the hospital has less than five days worth of diesel to supply its generators. “We are not afraid but we understand that we have to be careful,” Dukhovsky said, adding that the hospital staff did not lose faith and were determined to do what was necessary to win against Russia.
Ukrainian officials are not releasing pictures of damage to power plants and substations because they don’t want Russia to see exactly what impact the attack had, but some areas are acknowledged to have been destroyed.
In eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which is now less than 50% controlled by Russian forces and their backers after recent Ukrainian advances, utilities have been intermittent or non-existent for months.
Dmytro Myshenin of the NGO Vostok SOS, based in Kramatorsk, said supplies had improved in a few towns but not in areas deemed too close to the fighting, or badly damaged.
Towns such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk have been reconnected with water and gas supplies after the frontline was pulled back and people returned, he said. But in areas close to the front line, people have now spent months living in dire conditions without running water and gas and some without electricity.
“There are a lot of people who survive on wood-burning stoves and don’t,” Myshenin said. “We need more of everything.”
Last week, Ukraine sent a list of replacement parts it needed to the US, UK, EU, and other western countries because “we need more equipment now”, Kudrytskyi said. He added that there is an urgent need for “western defense systems, which have proven effective against Russian missiles”.
But the prime minister dismissed claims that Ukraine could have prepared better. “We ask for protection systems all the time. I mean, this is nothing new,” he said. “It does not address our military needs. It is about a humanitarian crisis that must be prevented for tens of millions of people in Europe.”
Kudrytskyi said it would be possible for Ukraine – which used to be self-sufficient in energy before the Russian attack – to buy electricity from Europe. But this will only be of limited help because of the country’s electricity grid, which could make it difficult to deliver electricity across the country, he said.
“We can buy some energy from the EU because Ukraine’s energy system is connected to the European energy grid,” Kudrytskyi said. “However, we may not be able to deliver this critical power to certain areas, if the grid is damaged.” He also warned that there is a risk of contamination of the barriers.
Big cities are at particular risk, he said, because of their high energy demand. Among these, he listed the main urban centers of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro.