Russian attacks on power grid provoke the worst energy crisis of the war in Ukraine

Air strikes have left the country with less than half of its electricity generation capacity, leading to daily power outages of 10 hours or more, a situation experts say will deteriorate further ahead of winter

Energy crisis in Ukraine
A firefighter battles a fire sparked by a Russian attack on a power plant in Kharkiv on March 22.Yakiv Liashenko (AP/ LaPresse)
Cristian Segura

“It is the new reality for our day-to-day life in the years to come,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on June 4. This new reality is living for 10 hours a day without electricity, the daily average over the past week when electricity supply to every household in Kyiv or Dnipro was cut. In another city, Odesa, in the south, there were neighborhoods that spent 20 hours without power. For the coming week, the state energy operator Ukrenergo estimates at least six hours a day without supply throughout the country. Russian air strikes have destroyed more than half of Ukraine’s power generation capacity. Politicians, companies in the sector, and experts say that the situation will get worse, and is likely to become dramatic during the coming winter.

Ukraine already faced a similar situation between autumn 2022 and January 2023, when Russia launched its first offensive against the country’s energy grid, but the scale of the damage caused in the 2024 attacks is much greater. Dixi, the Ukrainian energy industry’s benchmark consultancy, estimated in a report last May 28 that power generation capacity had fallen to 52%, with thermal power plants being the most-affected by the Russian shelling. Russian forces are also occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which provided half of Ukraine’s nuclear power generation before the war. Ukrainian government representatives confirmed to the Financial Times that the country had gone from generating 55 gigawatts before the invasion to a current rate of 20. Dixi lowers that figure to 18.3 gigawatts. This spring alone, Russian missiles have taken out plants producing nine gigawatts of electricity, according to Shmyhal.

The mild spring and summer weather, added to the extended hours of daylight, have allowed citizens to dodge a looming problem for the time being: a lack of electrical power in the cold months for heating systems, hot water, and lighting in homes. “Being pessimistic, the situation will worsen and in autumn there will be more severe power cuts. We have to prepare even for days when we will have only four hours of electricity,” Olga Kosharna, an expert at the Ukrainian Nuclear Center, explained to the Telegraf media on May 29.

Companies in the sector confirm that it will take years to repair the power plants damaged by the Russian bombardment. Serhiy Nagorniak, representative of the National Committee for Energy and Housing, explained to state news on June 6 that forecasts indicate that when temperatures drop below 50ºF (10ºC), the population should be aware that they will have to face 10 hours a day without electricity supply.

Central nuclear de Zaporiyia
The Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on March 29, 2023. Anadolu Agency/ Getty

Electricity tariffs have risen by 64%

Companies and communities of residents who can afford to do so are investing in diesel for generators, which are once again providing an uncomfortable sound that reverberates on every street in Ukraine. The impact on the citizen’s pocket goes beyond that. The electricity tariff from June has increased by 64%, from 2.64 hryvnas per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 4.32 hryvnas (between $0.064 and $0.11). Days before the Ukrainian Cabinet met on May 30, it was leaked that the increase would be 80%. But the reaction in the media and on social networks made it clear that the measure was highly unpopular at a time when the authorities must also deal with enormous unease over the compulsory conscription process to incorporate hundreds of thousands of civilians into the army.

Dixi informs this newspaper that its estimates in 2023 indicated the average monthly consumption per household in Ukraine was 155Kwh. In this average scenario, the monthly household bill would rise from $10 to $16.6. The Ukrainian Statistics Service indicates that the average monthly salary in Ukraine was equivalent to $471 at the end of last year. The World Bank estimated that in 2022 alone, the year in which Russia launched its invasion, the poverty rate in Ukraine rose from 5.5% to 24% of the population.

There is no alternative to raising tariffs, say the government and companies in the sector. The data proves them right. The companies are facing very high costs to rebuild the power grid, and Ukraine is increasingly dependent on electricity imports from the European Union.

The energy crisis is an issue that is placing even more pressure on President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov was dismissed last May without official explanation and despite being one of the most respected members of the government. The Ukrainian press assumed that Kubrakov was used as a scapegoat by the president. The then-minister was subjected on April 26 in the Rada — the Ukrainian parliament, where Zelenskiy’s party has an absolute majority — to more than an hour of questioning by deputies who reproached him for not having better fortified the power plants, particularly the Trypilska thermal power plant, the principal plant in the Kyiv region, which was razed to the ground in an attack in April. Kubrakov replied that anti-aircraft defenses were not his responsibility.

Mustafa Nayyem, a popular pro-European activist in Ukraine, resigned Monday as head of the Office of Infrastructure Reconstruction and Development, accusing the government of not giving enough support to his department. In a harsh statement, Nayyem added that his agency has done everything possible to protect the power grid, but that essential resources are expressly blocked and he fears that his work and that of his team “will in the future be discredited in public.”

Ukraine has suffered this year from a growing shortage of anti-aircraft ammunition, especially U.S. Patriot missiles, which has been reflected in a lower interception rate of Russian projectiles by the Air Force and the greater ease with which Moscow can hit strategic targets such as power plants and substations. The critical situation has forced countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States to redouble the delivery of more anti-aircraft systems.

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