By Iryna Kosse.
On the morning of October 10, Russia massively shelled Ukrainian cities aiming to destroy its energy infrastructure. In eight regions and the capital Kyiv, electrical lines were cut off, and power plants were damaged. Some regions like Lviv, Poltava, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Ternopil experienced a complete blackout; in others, only some areas were affected. After several hits, Kharkiv was entirely off the grid, Kyiv and Kyivska region introduced schedules for electricity supply, and Lviv reported that 90% of the city territory was without electricity.
On the evening of October 10, authorities asked Ukrainian citizens to decrease electricity consumption between 17:00 and 22:00 to balance the network. For example, Kyivites reduced their electricity consumption by 26% during the evening peak hours.
The following day, the attack on the infrastructure resumed. Overall, the attack affected 11 regions as well as the city of Kyiv. Among the known targets are the Burshtyn thermal power plant (TPP) in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, Ladyzhyn TPP in the Vinnytsya region, and TPPs in Kyiv, Lviv, Kryvyi Rih, Kamyanka, and Pavlohrad. According to Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, around 30% of the energy infrastructure in Ukraine was hit by Russian missiles in two days.
Disruptions in electricity supply affect other spheres as well. No electricity means that many households do not have heating and hot water, no internet connection, and an unstable cellular connection. Indeed, internet connection was unavailable in the Khmelnytsk, Lviv, Poltava regions, Kharkiv, and Zhytomyr. Due to the attack, national internet connectivity decreased by 17%. Lviv reported that the air raid alarm might not work in some parts of the city. In Kryvyy Rih, 854 miners were trapped in the underground mine for several hours. The national railway operator Ukrzaliznytsya reported that 20 passenger trains were delayed. Problems with electricity supply also affected banks and the postal service. Ukrainian fiscal services, therefore, had limited access to its electronic services.
The attack also had international repercussions: wheat prices on the world markets increased to a three-month high due to the fear that the escalation would threaten crop exports and the extension of the Istanbul deal. Gas futures prices in Europe also increased. Furthermore, Ukraine stopped electricity exports to increase its domestic market’s electricity supply.
However, such a severe blow did not destroy the Ukrainian electricity system. The government said the sector was ready for possible attacks and stocked spare parts to repair the damaged stations quickly. By the evening of October 10, the electricity supply was restored in about half of the affected areas. Ukrenergo, the Ukrainian national electricity transmission system operator, warned that temporary electricity cutoffs might continue for several days. They are necessary to restore the network and do the repairs.
Despite the scale of the attack and further threats from Russia, Ukraine’s energy authorities are confident that they will be able to keep the system balanced and satisfy the demand. Ukrenergo stated that it did not request help from the EU countries to stabilize the electricity supply and is not planning to do this in the nearest future. Emergency help from European operators remains an option, though. This option became possible after the Ukrainian electricity system was integrated into the ENTSO-E network. “Limitations on electricity supply in Kyiv and the central region are not caused by the resource deficit but by the infrastructural damages. These limitations are necessary for maintenance workers to complete the restoration works,” Ukrenergo added.
The use of reserve electricity lines and the rerouting of electricity from other subsystems allowed to power the objects of critical infrastructure. The most challenging situation is in the Dnipropetrovsk region. As it has the most significant industrial clusters in the country and now several damaged TPPs, repairs will be lengthy. Since TPPs mainly provide electricity during the peak morning and evening hours, self-limitation by the population becomes essential. If these measures do not have the desired effect, the government will begin turning off advertisement signs, city lighting, entertainment and trade centres, as well as non-critical enterprises.
With the threat of further attacks from Russia, the Ukrainian government considers warzone-bordering regions the most vulnerable to repetitive energy infrastructure damage and electricity blackouts. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the government allocated UAH 563 mn (EUR 15.6 mn) for eight Ukrainian regions (Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhya) for the purchase of firewood and its free distribution among the population.
Overall, the Ukrainian electricity sector proved its resilience against the Russian Federation’s terrorist attacks on civilian infrastructure. However, recent events have shown that energy infrastructure will be the constant target for attacks by drones and artillery in the new phase of the war. This will exhaust the already strained financial, technical, and human resources. Therefore, for the energy system not to be in a state of a permanent destruction-repair cycle which destabilizes the economy and citizens’ daily lives, Ukraine urgently needs air defence systems and help from its western allies.