Andras Nemeth

Millions of Ukrainians are suffering from cold and darkness after weeks of Russian airstrikes aimed at destroying the power grid.

Vladimir Putin launched an open war against Ukraine called “special military action”. Fighting has been ongoing since February, with Russian forces killing thousands of civilians. We report all developments in our series of articles.

Ukraine has become a dark place in satellite images, as a result of recent Russian airstrikes against the energy grid, power and water supplies have been disrupted in most of the affected country. Moscow is certain to continue its actions, and as infrastructure continues to be destroyed and the winter cold sets in, Ukraine will become more and more unlivable. By systematically targeting civilian targets, Russia is in serious violation of international conventions on war.

The power pole is collapsing

Experts are doing a truly Sisyphean job trying to restore Ukraine’s energy supply after Russian airstrikes. During the latest attack on Wednesday, the Russians fired about seventy rockets and drones, and while air defenses destroyed most of the incoming rockets, the ones that hit the target caused more severe disruption than before. Not because the Russians were better targeted this time, but because attacks on infrastructure since mid-October have now brought the power grid to the brink of collapse, and as damage mounts, restoring the network is difficult. Based on the declaration of the Ukrainian President, more than half of the Ukrainian energy system has already been damaged.

There is no redemption, all we can do is try to survive

– Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Mustafa Najem told HVG that the Ukrainian network was already in a critical state at the end of October, because every day new power plants and power distributors collapse, roads and bridges are destroyed. Affected facilities are difficult to reach. According to the latest figures, the Russians have already fired more than 4,000 missiles at Ukraine, damaging or destroying 20,000 residential buildings, in addition to energy and transport infrastructure.

Locals charge their mobile phones at a train station in Kherson, one of the city’s electrified buildings, as the city’s infrastructure has been largely destroyed.


According to Yulija Saibova, a member of the Kyiv Center for Economic Recovery, the biggest problem is that Russians are primarily destroying power distributors, so even if the power plants work, they cannot supply electricity to consumers. The result was that after Wednesday’s attack – for the first time in four decades – none of the nuclear power plants produced electricity because the reactors shut down automatically due to damage to the system. If nuclear power plants do not receive electricity, the reactors can only be operated from generators for a short period of time, after which the risk of a nuclear accident increases.

Power plants will resume operation by Friday, but chronic power shortages will not subside, so there will be no power outages in major cities, but power supply will roll: even in Kiev, there is only 3-4 hours of electricity. day Most of the factories that repair and manufacture military equipment operate at night in the valleys of consumption.

According to Yulija Saibova, a major problem is that the Ukrainian electricity network mainly consists of old power distributors built in Soviet times, and if they are destroyed, it is practically impossible to replace them. Some members of Ukrainian power supply companies are now touring the former socialist countries, searching the depths of warehouses for converted and perhaps preserved equipment that can be used in Ukraine.

Impossible heights

It is clear that high-rise buildings in large cities cannot survive the winter: if the destruction continues – and it will certainly continue – there will be no water and electricity. Due to lack of electricity, there is a risk of not being able to run water up to the upper floors, non-functioning drains, and being stuck in unheated elevators for hours. It is no coincidence that more and more elevators are loaded with rescue packs, which contain warm clothes, blankets and drinks. If the temperature stays below freezing for a long time and the power goes out for several days in the meantime, the channels will also freeze and this will permanently destroy the system.

The best chance of survival is provided by country houses with gardens, where you can even cook outside, and heat the rooms with wood or coal stoves. According to surveys, Ukrainians prefer to wait for the time being, two-thirds of respondents said that, despite the difficulties, they do not plan to leave their current home. Refugee shelters are preparing to cook outdoors on open fires for those arriving from other areas, and officials are trying to provide firewood to all who need it.

48-year-old Dmitry set fire to the stove in his home on October 30, 2022 in Issum, Ukraine, due to a gas cut.


According to Ukrainian experts speaking to HVG, forced evacuations may be ordered in some settlements, such as Kherson or Mykolaiv, which are close to the front line, because the authorities cannot guarantee the conditions necessary for survival. While no force can be used during resettlement, anyone who wishes can stay where they live. In Kiev, what will happen to the residents of the capital has not yet been decided, but it appears that the evacuation of more than two million people cannot be ordered. Not only because of the lack of a safe target: energy supplies are already disrupted in western Ukraine’s cities, and rocket attacks are frequent in Lviv near the Polish border and in peaceful Transcarpathia, which has not been affected by airstrikes. The measures are already in place.

Hundreds of generators and high-performance batteries come from abroad, but they are not enough to supply all citizens. Large generators are placed in open warming rooms in all cities, where hundreds or thousands of people can receive hot food and drinks in a large heated hall. Hot tubs are opened mainly in public institutions, but people can rely on shopping centers and metro in big cities.

War crimes and fugitives

Airstrikes that essentially target civilians can increasingly be classified as war crimes because, according to the Geneva Conventions that lay down the rules of war, targets that destroy enemy forces suffer a disproportionately large amount of suffering. The public cannot be considered fair. The Russians openly said that the missiles were coming to force people to start political leadership talks with the Russians. This makes it clear that the Russians want to break the civilian population, and everyone knows that the most important consumer, the military, is constantly receiving electricity, and that there will always be enough electricity for the soldiers to keep fighting.

Kiwis line up at a water pump in the park to fill their plastic bottles with water


Although it was already predictable that Russian strikes would come every 7-8 days, Russian tactics were not working for now. This amount of time is needed to assess the damage caused by the previous operation, select new targets and prepare the air force. Surveys show that the majority of Ukrainian citizens are persevering despite the difficulties and do not support Kiev to start negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the same time, there are likely to be many more who have fled, Ukraine’s western settlements and neighboring states can expect a wave of hundreds of thousands or even millions of refugees.


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