Ukrainians struggle with power outages as winter approaches

The decorative candles that Yaroslav Vedmid bought more than a year ago were never meant to be lit, but the dried wax that clings to them today testifies to how they were used almost at night, consequence of power cuts across Ukraine.

Sitting at a table with his wife in a village on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, the two can’t count the number of times they’ve eaten in the dark since Russian attacks triggered blackouts from from the beginning of October. Moscow has openly declared its intention to target the country’s energy infrastructure and throw the nation into the cold.

“When you’re dependent on electricity, the worst thing is that you can’t plan… Psychologically it’s very uncomfortable,” said Vedmid, a 44-year-old business owner in Bilohorodka. The outages are getting longer – nearly 12 hours of outages a day, he said.

So far, Russia has destroyed around 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, affecting 16 regions, according to the Ukrainian government.

The latest assault came on Monday, when a massive barrage of Russian cruise missile and drone strikes hit Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities, cutting off water and electricity in apparent retaliation for what Moscow said. characterized as a Ukrainian attack on its Black Sea Fleet.

Unpredictable power outages are on the rise as the government scrambles to stabilize the energy grid and repair the system before winter. The cuts add another layer of angst and uncertainty to a population already struggling with the stress of nearly nine months of war.

To try to ease people’s burdens, energy companies publish daily schedules of when neighborhoods will have no power. But this is not consistent, especially as the strikes intensify. Last week, a power plant in the central region was damaged, causing an emergency shutdown and prompting the government to warn citizens about harsher and longer outages.

“Unfortunately, the destruction and damage is severe,” Kyiv region governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a Telegram post. “It is necessary to prepare for emergency power outages for an indefinite period,” he said.

Across the capital, residents are stocking up on heaters, blankets, warm clothes and power banks to charge their electronics. While most say they are prepared to bear the brunt of breakdowns for the sake of war, the frequency and fluidity of breakdowns is grueling.

Starting Tuesday, the government plans to change the Kyiv Metro timetable to include longer waiting times to save energy.

On the day The Associated Press visited Vedmid’s home in October, there was an unscheduled five-hour power outage and then another scheduled over dinner.

Every time the electricity goes out, the family loses internet service. Because the village also has a weak telephone network, the household is often unable to communicate with others.

Staring at his cell phone, Vedmid shrugs. Google Maps isn’t working and he doesn’t know how long it will take to reach the station for a planned trip with his wife to the countryside.

But what concerns him most are the months ahead when temperatures could drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). “My main fears relate to (the) cold part of the season, winter, because right now it influences our comfort but does not threaten our lives,” he said.

The family has ordered a generator, which should be installed by December, but demand has skyrocketed and not everyone can afford one or the fuel to run it. The price of diesel has doubled since the start of the war, local residents said.

Still, some found a silver lining at the zippers. Vedmid’s wife, Olena, said she read more books rather than constantly refreshing the internet to see the latest developments in the war. It helps her feel less anxious.

Without relentless Russian bombardment and a lack of repair materials, much of which must be imported, the damage could be repaired within weeks, energy experts said.

“The main danger is repeated missile attacks,” said Professor Gennadii Ryabtsev, senior energy security researcher at the National Institute for Strategic Studies. Residents of towns close to the front lines, such as Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv, will suffer the most from the blackouts, he said.

DTEK, Ukraine’s main energy company, said it had run out of equipment for repairs. The cost of the equipment is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Russia is likely to continue the war through the winter, hoping to weaken Western support for Ukraine and “freeze Europe in capitulation”, according to a report published this week by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

Residents near the front lines say they are preparing for conditions to worsen.

Mariia Chupinina was facing power cuts in Kharkiv even before power cuts started in the region this week. The woman who takes in orphaned children lives on the fifth floor of a building and takes care of four babies under 12 months old. When there’s no electricity, it’s impossible to heat the apartment, and every time they leave they have to walk down five floors in the dark, she told the AP by phone. .

If Chupinina forgets to plan ahead, the babies won’t have anything to eat. “If you haven’t prepared, you don’t have time to fill the thermos, and there’s no warm water or formula,” she said.

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Christi C. Elwood