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Kyiv struggles with rolling blackouts as officials warn of bleak months ahead

by Chris York and Kateryna Denisova June 5, 2024 9:39 PM 4 min read
A view from the street while Kyiv is going through blackouts as a result of the harm Russian attacks cause on Ukrainian infrastructure in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 4, 2024 (Danylo Antoniuk/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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Kyiv is once again adjusting to life without electricity as the capital faces what could be its worst energy crisis since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion.

"We are catastrophically short of electricity for our needs," Serhii Kovalenko, Chief Executive Officer at the private energy company YASNO, said in a post on Facebook on June 5.

Rolling blackouts across the city mean that for large portions of the day, residents must negotiate tower blocks without lifts, road crossings without traffic lights, and the constant noise and fumes of countless diesel generators used to sustain shops and cafes.

Russia intensified its attacks against Ukraine's critical infrastructure in the spring as part of a renewed assault against the country's energy grid.

The timing of Russia's campaign appeared to match the moment Ukraine began to face insufficient supplies of military aid from the West, leaving some energy infrastructure without air defenses.

Ukraine began implementing rolling shutdowns on May 15 but they have dramatically increased in recent days, and the latest Russian mass-missile attack on May 31 caused further damage across the country.

The blackouts last from four to eight hours on average, up to three times per day, but some people living in certain areas of Kyiv report being without electricity almost constantly.

As well as the domestic discomfort of living in homes without power, some businesses are struggling with the rapidly deteriorating situation.

"There are fewer customers since most people go (to places) where the electricity is," Yana Lomanova, manager of a Lviv Croissants bakery on Khreshchatyk Street, told the Kyiv Independent.

"People see that we have no lights on, and they probably think we are not working and pass by. Fewer people, less profit."

Lomanova said she has a small battery that is enough for 4.5 hours of power but when it runs out, there is little they can do.

"We cannot heat up or bake croissants, so we just close early," she said.

In its latest update on June 5, Ukraine's state grid operator Ukrenergo said there would be a deficit in the energy system across the country on June 6 with limits on consumption forecast throughout the whole day.

The current scenes in Kyiv are reminiscent of the winter of 2022/23 when Russia first began targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure, leading to similar blackouts.

Back then, the rationing of energy was compounded by the cold and dark of winter, but according to officials, the current situation is unlikely to improve and the upcoming cold season will likely be the bleakest yet of the war.

Ukrainian officials quoted by the Financial Times (FT) in a June 5 report said people should be preparing for "life in the cold and the dark," with power cuts for the "vast majority" of the day.

Another said that Ukraine should prepare for a "new normal" of frequent blackouts.

EU Ambassador to Ukraine Katarina Mathernova said on June 2 that Russia has destroyed 9.2 gigawatts (GW) of Ukraine's energy generation.

Before the full-scale invasion, Ukraine produced around 55 GW of electricity, which was "among the largest in Europe," the FT said.

"That power generation capacity has currently dropped below 20 GW, due to bombardments or to Russian occupation taking those plants offline, according to Ukrainian officials."

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko warned on May 13 that Ukrainians should "prepare for a difficult winter" as Ukraine has "already lost about 8 gigawatts of capacity in the system."

"If this had happened in any other country, there would have been a total blackout," Halushchenko said.

Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy company, told Kyiv Independent that his company had lost 90% of thermal generating capacity, but had a plan to bring back a "significant amount" in time for winter and called on international partners to assist.

"On the eve of Ukrainian Recovery conference in Berlin, my message to energy leaders and friendly governments is simple: please help us deliver this plan," he said.

"We need old equipment from decommissioned power stations elsewhere in Europe to repair our damaged infrastructure; quick fixes like bringing in open cycle gas turbines; the funding to carry out all this work; and also to expand electricity imports from Europe.

"If we accomplish all this and with strong air defenses overhead, Ukraine can get through the coming winter.”

Situation with energy system to be ‘difficult’ this week, Ukrenergo warns
The high temperature, which causes an increase in electricity consumption, as well as recent Russian attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, have led to the deterioration of the situation.

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