Outages shroud Ukraine as Russian strikes on power plants take their toll (2024)

KYIV — The cutoffs started Monday and have only increased throughout the week, plunging much of Ukraine’s capital into darkness save for a few hours every day. In some parts of the city, even the traffic lights are turned off, and at night entire neighborhoods are draped in black.

The relentless pounding of Ukraine’s power plants by Russian drones and missiles is finally being felt. The state electricity distributor, Ukrenergo, said the latest onslaught on the power grid over the weekend meant rationing power throughout the country. It had been the sixth such barrage since March.

“We are catastrophically short of electricity for our needs,” Serhii Kovalenko, chief executive of the Ukrainian private electricity distributor YASNO, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

The power cuts have divided Kyiv into the haves and the have-nots — with even residents at some privileged, high-end addresses suddenly finding themselves in the latter category.


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Residents trade tips about what has kept their homes powered while their neighbors went dark: power lines connected to a railway office, for example, or a children’s hospital.

Aline Laptiy, 18, a coffee shop worker who lives in a neighborhood outside Kyiv’s city center, said she and her boyfriend used a gas camping stove when the power went out.

Water supply was another question, however. They live on the upper floors of a high-rise building supplied by an electric water pump. When the power is turned on briefly — the other night they had electricity for just two hours, she said — they fill up anything they can with water: “In our bathtub, in bottles, anywhere,” she said.

The power outages have heralded the return of the chugging sound of gasoline generators on the streets of Kyiv — once the familiar soundtrack during the winters of Russia’s previous attacks, but somewhat unexpected on the long, warm summer nights.

At Remi, a hip new restaurant in central Kyiv, the doors have opened and closed throughout the day and night this week as the kitchen tried to manage without power. The restaurant opened in April, before the power cuts went into effect, and doesn’t yet have a generator. Workers hope to receive one by Thursday or Friday. It will be a lifesaver after several days of lost supplies and customers.


On Wednesday, the restaurant closed its doors several hours earlier than usual. Its ingredients had spoiled and its pizza menu couldn’t be produced: The machine that kneaded the dough required electricity, as did the oven.

There was “no power, no people, no food,” said Arsen, 20, a waiter at the restaurant who asked that only his first name be used, because of the sensitivity of the subject.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow’s forces bombarded Ukraine’s energy sector, focusing special attention on the country’s electrical transmission grid. The attacks brought the system to the point of collapse during the winter of 2022 to 2023 and left large portions of the country without electricity, heat and water for the long, frigid winter months.

But a transmission grid is fairly easy to repair, so this time the Kremlin has shifted its tactics. Russian forces are now concentrating their missiles on Ukraine’s thermal and hydroelectric power plants, while slamming the transmission system with self-destructing drones.


The attacks on the transmission system have not been as damaging, Maxim Timchenko, CEO of Ukraine’s largest private energy company, DTEK, said in an interview. The network’s substations are well-protected behind concrete bunkers, and the equipment can be replaced quickly if destroyed.

But it is the concentrated missile attacks on the power plants that have been devastating. DTEK has lost some 86 percent of its generating capacity, Timchenko said. What makes the situation worse is that many of the electrical facilities have been targeted repeatedly — a cycle of “destruction, recovery, destruction,” he said.

A DTEK power unit that was repaired just a few weeks ago was hit again over the weekend, Timchenko said. “Now it’s just gone.”

Ukraine’s electrical grid largely escaped the pounding that Russian forces inflicted the previous winter, thanks in part to an air defense system that intercepted a large number of missiles and drones. But now, Russian missiles are increasingly finding their targets. Ukrainian officials say that they lack enough antiaircraft systems and that air defenses аre running low on ammunition — in part because of Western delays in arms deliveries.


The question is what comes next. More than half of Ukraine’s energy needs are provided by nuclear power, which can account for about 70 percent of electricity during long periods of high consumption in winter. However, the thermal and hydroelectric plants provide further electrical capacity, needed because it can be ramped up relatively quickly to cover short-term increases in consumption. Without this extra capacity, the energy system faces imbalances and shortfalls, Ukrainian officials say.

“The consequences of Russian attacks on energy are long-term, so saving [energy] will be part of our everyday life in the years to come,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a government meeting Wednesday. He said that “more than nine gigawatts of generation capacity” had been lost — close to half of Ukraine’s wartime energy output.

The scheduled outages will continue intermittently through the summer, as nuclear power plants undergo planned maintenance and as electricity consumption increases as temperatures rise and Ukrainians turn on air conditioners.


“Next week will be better,” Ukrenergo spokesperson Mariia Tsaturian said. “The week after that could be worse.”

During that time, Ukrainian officials will try to secure the needed equipment for the power plants to ramp up electricity production. Much of this has to be ordered now and will not arrive in time for winter, however, they said.

DTEK’s Timchenko said next week’s Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin, an annual meeting dedicated to discussing and securing assistance for Ukraine’s reconstruction, will provide an opportunity to obtain equipment such as gas turbines.

He also hopes to reach agreement with European officials to purchase used equipment from decommissioned power plants.

Ukraine has increased its energy imports from neighboring countries, but that is not enough to cover the shortfall.


Ultimately, the question is what the winter will have in store for Ukraine. The scheduled outages will continue — the only question is how severe they will be, Ukrenergo CEO Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said.

“It’s going to be very hard,” Kudrytskyi said. “And we need to contain this risk of further deterioration of generation ability of this system.”

Some analysts say that in any case, this winter without question be more difficult than the one during the previous Russian attack.

“We are talking about a huge loss of generation,” said Yuri Kubrushko, founder of Imepower, a Ukrainian energy consultancy. “I can hardly see from where Ukraine can get new extra capacity just this winter.”

Outages shroud Ukraine as Russian strikes on power plants take their toll (2024)
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