The people of Ukraine are living in something comparable to an apocalyptic scene out of a movie, with no electricity after the Russian military campaign against civilian infrastructure. Norma Costello reports in Foreign Policy:
In a small cafe on Kyiv’s left bank, a glass bowl perched on the counter bears the word “generator.” “It used to be the tip jar,” cafe owner Mykyta Karyi explained. “Somehow, I think this is a little more urgent.” The 27-year-old and his girlfriend are one of thousands of small-business owners struggling to keep the lights on as Russia continues to attack Ukraine’s energy supply. Karyi and his girlfriend watched the plumes of smoke from the doorstep of the cafe as Russia wiped out the energy to Kyiv’s residential left bank.
“It was a bit apocalyptic, but we’re from Kherson, so we’ve been through much worse,” he said. The couple has been in business for two months after passing through 62 checkpoints while fleeing occupied Kherson, where they owned two cafes. In their new premises in Kyiv, Karyi passes out cups of filtered coffee and tea he makes with a camping stove. “It slows things down. Ukrainians like espressos and cappuccinos, but this is all we can do now,” he said.
Ukraine’s power supply is currently being held together with Band-Aids. Targeted Russian missile strikes have destroyed much of the country’s energy infrastructure, which plunged 6 million people into blackouts that lasted for days last month. Close to 50 percent of the country’s energy facilities have already been affected by Russian attacks, and the remaining 50 percent remain under constant threat of bombardment. Air raid sirens screamed across Kyiv this week to warn of incoming missile attacks. Some cities in Ukraine have managed to maintain a so-called normal power outage schedule of 4-hour blocks of power three times per day. But in other places, such as the eastern city of Kharkiv, blackouts can last for up to 12 hours per day.
The situation is not without irony. Earlier this year, Ukraine’s diverse energy supply was seen as a key to its resilience. Ukraine’s electricity sector was seen as a potential bulwark against Russian threats to squeeze Europe during the winter by restricting gas exports to the continent. In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Ukraine would start exporting electricity to the European Union via Romania. At the time, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she was “thrilled with Ukraine’s accomplishment, achieved while protecting their homeland, which will pave the way to what I know they can become: a clean energy powerhouse and energy exporter to the European Union.”
However, as Russian missiles continue to barrel through Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Ukraine has become reliant on the EU for support to keep its hospitals, schools, and administration buildings afloat. The Energy Community—an organization that brings together the European Union and its neighbors to create an integrated, pan-European energy market—has stepped in to help Ukraine.
The group—in tandem with the European Commission and Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy—set up a legal framework to counteract the impact of Russia’s invasion with a newly created Ukraine Energy Support Fund. Energy infrastructure that can’t be received through donations can now be bought through the fund.
But financing is only one factor in Ukraine’s energy crisis. The large energy transformers destroyed in Russia’s attacks, which are crucial for maintaining Ukraine’s power supply, take at least six months to manufacture.
“The biggest needs at the moment are linked to the repair of high-voltage power transformers, which can be rarely found in Europe. The few that are available in Europe fall short of covering Ukraine’s needs,” said Energy Community director Artur Lorkowski. “So they will have to be manufactured, which will take a minimum of six months to 18 months, depending on their size and installed power. The transport of these transformers is also a large and complex logistical operation, consuming additional time and money.”
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