In recent months, Russia has been raining missiles on the Ukraine, trying to take out their power grid – all part of their strategy to cripple the country’s infrastructure and freeze Ukraine into submission.
Utility crews struggling to patch up power lines during a two-month Russian military blitz targeting Ukrainian infrastructure are learning to adapt.
Just as on the battlefield, Ukrainians are learning to respond quickly on energy fronts drawn inside homes, hospitals, offices, and schools in yet another act of defiance against a powerful invader. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as other Ukrainian leaders, have warned that their gas systems, water mains, and power stations have become a new front as the war nears the 10-month mark.
Following the widespread attacks of late November, about half of Ukraine’s energy supply network is still damaged according to DTEK (Ukraine’s largest energy company). During that barrage, six of the company’s thermal power plants were shut down, and as many as 70% of residents in Ukraine’s capital lost power. The plants were brought back online within 24 hours, although power cuts affect about 30% of Kyiv’s residents during the day, dropping as low as 20% at night.
Russian forces have attacked electrical facilities 17 times since early October resulting in deaths of more than 106 employees since Russia invaded the Ukraine in late February. According to DTEK, three energy workers were killed and 24 injured – this past week. When the missiles start dropping, the crew(s) rush to an unspecified emergency site, assess the damage, and quickly determine what repairs need to be done, that can be accomplished within a few hours.
The crews can’t just rush in. In theory, but not always in practice, de-mining experts are expected to arrive first and give the all-clear that there’s no danger from unexploded ordnance. Then, clean-up crews, when needed, clear away debris and fragments from downed lines and blast destruction so trucks and heavy equipment can get through to complete the repairs.
The current infrastructure-targeted strikes aren’t as perilous as the attacks during the opening phase of the war, when Russian forces advanced to the outskirts of Kyiv and some neighborhoods of the capital before being pushed back. At that time, repair work was done under fire.
Ukraine has adapted. A popular mobile phone app whose name title translates as Air Alarm regularly sounds warnings that Russian strikes are under way, specifying the region.
Today, the DTEK crews try to stay close to their operational base, ready to load up and deploy on a moment’s notice, but the risks remain high. “Even now, we’re not really confident because no one knows if they will do a double hit when we deploy to repair a site that they’ve just struck,” one crew member said.
For the electric company crews, it’s about getting the job done, “no matter what’s happening around us”. We’re just here to fix it.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko