Ukraine's power suppliers feel impact of Russian 'energy war'

AFP , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

Weeks of relentless Russian strikes against power plants and infrastructure in Ukraine have been compared to an "energy war" by operators who have seen their networks wiped out.

power plant
File Photo: workers clean debris in a turbine hall full of scorched equipment at a power plant of energy provider DTEK in an undisclosed location in Ukraine on April 19, 2024. AFP


"We never expected that 90 per cent of our generation capacity can be destroyed in 11 weeks," the head of Ukraine's largest private energy operator DTEK, Maxim Timchenko, told AFP.

Many of the company's plants are burnt out and beyond repair after weeks of intense Russian strikes that have cut Ukraine's electricity generation capacity in half.

The fight to protect energy infrastructure was "comparable with the military frontline" in Russia's war in Ukraine, Timchenko told AFP.

"If they destroy completely our energy infrastructure, it will be so difficult to have any success," Timchenko said on the sidelines of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Germany.

How to quickly boost Ukraine's energy supplies and protect the network from future attacks was high on the agenda for Kyiv's backers at the gathering, held over Tuesday and Wednesday in Berlin.

Depriving Ukraine of electricity was "psychologically a form of warfare", Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told AFP at the Berlin conference.

"It is extremely difficult for a population to have to live for days without light and without heating," said Steiner, whose organisation has sent hundreds of generators to Ukraine.


Russian strikes against energy infrastructure have gained in intensity in recent weeks and left residents across Ukraine without power.

Ukrainian state power operator Ukrenergo said Tuesday it would have to extend scheduled outages to manage meagre supplies of electricity.

"Due to extensive damage, Ukrainian power plants cannot produce as much electricity as before the attacks," the company said.

Speaking at the conference, President Volodymyr Zelensky made a plea to boost Ukraine's defences against the attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to "hone the practice of destroying energy facilities", Zelensky said.

Providing Ukraine with more air defence systems to ward off missiles fired by Moscow was "the answer" to halt Russian advances on the ground, he said.

Aerial cover provided a vital shield for Ukraine to rebuild the power grid and keep energy flowing to households and businesses, Timchenko said.

"All these repairs will be just a waste of money and time if we don't protect our power stations from air strikes."

DTEK has seen first-hand what can happen without better protection, Timchenko noted. One of its plants was fixed up in March, only to be struck again three weeks later and destroyed completely.

'Absolute priority'

DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy operator, is aiming to rebuild 50 per cent of its thermal energy generation capacity by winter when temperatures drop and demand increases.

DTEK has reached out to other energy providers in Europe to source spare parts, such as transformers and generators, for its plants.

But the damage is sometimes simply too large to be repaired quickly.

"If there is a strong fire in the power unit... we are not even going to restore it in one year," said Timchenko.

At the aid conference, the European Union said it would back loans to businesses worth over one billion euros ($1.1 billion) to speed reconstruction of infrastructure and encourage renewables projects.

Solar or wind projects, whose dimensions make them more resistant to missile attacks, were a part of the solution, Timchenko said.

"This is basically the future of our energy sector," he said.

But the company's "absolute priority is not to let people stay without electricity," he added.

"It's all about energy security. We shouldn't select what technology to restore, what not. We need to restore everything possible in Ukraine."

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