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New Attack on Energy System. What to Expect?

New Attack on Energy System. What to Expect? © LIBKOS STORIES / Telegram
Seventh wave of terror

article by ZN.UA correspondent

Ihor Maskalevych

Another massive strike on the energy industry, seventh in a row, is expected in the nearest future. The Kremlin says it will be a finisher.

The goal is to force Ukraine to surrender through the maximum possible terror and freezing of the population. The Nazis tried something similar in Putin’s native city of Leningrad in 1942. They did not succeed, and neither will the new führer. Ukraine will persevere. It will, however, be extremely difficult. Long electricity, water and heating outages will become par for the course; other benefits of civilization, such as communication and the Internet, are better left unmentioned.

The energy system has been thrown off balance massively since October. The major blows were inflicted on key transformer substations. To date, dozens of large transformers have been damaged and ruined. Reserves for replacement, albeit available, are very limited. The transformer is an artificial product. It takes at least 8 to 10 months to make or order a new one, plus delivery and installation. The process is expensive and long.

That is why on November 23, eight weeks into massive shelling, the Russian Federation managed to break the power transmission system into parts. The consequences are well-known: all nuclear plants were shut down, the unified energy system of Ukraine was broken into several local islands. Up to two-thirds of consumers were left without electricity. The system was stitched back together quite quickly. Energy workers made a heroic effort, swiftly providing about half of the country’s electricity needs. In a week, they brought the figure to 80%, all against the background of worsening weather conditions impelling people to increase consumption.

To say that we have already dealt with all the consequences would be unfair. Picking up the pieces will take a long time. Troubles caused by the destruction of substations will be there for years. After each hit, the hastily restored equipment has an ever lower stability margin.

The Russians are aware of this. For dozens of years, until February 24, we had worked within a unified energy system. They know our vulnerabilities fairly well. The good news is that they have underestimated but one factor — the professionalism of our energy workers.

General speaking, any Western European energy system would have collapsed after the third raid; we have survived six.

We hasten to remind the NATO countries that the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia was put off for three weeks, until the end of May, since the civilian population was suffering and freezing due to strikes on power lines feeding military plants. What was the temperature 200 km from the Mediterranean then? 15 degrees ºC? But if such suffering was considered unacceptable, it may be worth remembering that Ukraine has below zero temperatures in winter and that more efforts should be made.

We need both help in importing electricity and the necessary equipment and military aid to repel airstrikes.

Fleeing from Kherson, the Russians blew up a high-voltage substation — huge transformers were literally thrown from their foundations. During the attack on the  electricity networks, seven nuclear reactors of all three operating nuclear power plants were also “knocked out,” and power supply to the captured Zaporizhzhia NPP was stopped.

It will be no exaggeration to say that this is an unparalleled act of nuclear terrorism unheard of in world history. Moscow certainly could not care less about it – if anything, they will award orders for it – but why Europe does not react in any way is hard to comprehend. Yes, this time it was a miraculous narrow squeak, but hitching one’s wagon to miracle alone is blatant irresponsibility. After all, the wind blows in different directions. Ukrainians and the residents of Tiraspol in Moldova are not the only ones to draw conclusions from what is happening.

For the sake of justice, we also have enough flaws of our own. For example, there are different opinions regarding the shutdown of all nuclear units, including the idea that several of them could be kept, if not in a single network, then in an autonomous mode. It seems like a mere subtlety, but we have a generation shortage.

There are other nuances; although not all of them should be voiced during the war, they should be borne in mind. At the very least, to inquire about it later, is it true that Ukraine refused the autonomous gas power plants that the allies offered us in summer? The proposal to supply such generators is still on the table at the Ministry of Energy. With their help, key services can be maintained, including heating and water supply, which also require energy. A blackout without water and heat and a blackout with them are two totally different things. Nonetheless, neither the prime minister nor the mayors know about such a proposal, because the relevant department decided not to deal with coordination, transferring the task instead to the Ministry of Regions, a ministry without a minister.

And while you are trying to work out how much effort and money such cooperation would have saved us, we will move on to the practical part.

What is needed first of all is to strengthen the protection of stations and substations as much as possible with gabions, vaulted floors, etc. Not all transformers are damaged by direct hits, and such structures protect well from debris and parts of the Iranian-made Shahed drones.

Last but not least, we have to knock down as many as missiles as possible. In fact, it is more complicated than it seems. The supply of Western systems is modest for a good reason: their stock is limited. But at least some is better than none at all. The Swedes gave us anti-aircraft guns that were put into service in Stalin’s time. It would be quite suitable against the Shaheds.

It is absurd to hope that the Russians will run out of missiles; It is even more pointless not to try to limit their inflow of imported components. Dozens of Western microcircuits are usually found in each downed missile. Their manufacturers have to share responsibility with the Russian Federation for the current terror in Ukraine. We are obliged to talk about it a lot and at all possible levels and... strike back.

Yes, dodging attacks endlessly is a bad idea. Strength is the only argument that our adversary understands. Ukraine can produce that same “shahed”: 80% of it consists of Western-made parts. Give it a poetic name, and let it fly over Russian energy stations. Tell them it has gone astray. After all, following the attack on the Darnytsia thermal power plant, the Russians claimed there were no missile hits in Kyiv that day. All right, than no one is bombing Voronezh either.

An equally important component is communication.

People tired of darkness and cold are annoyed by speakers (half of whom are unfamiliar and ill-informed), who continuously promise that in a few more days everything will be almost back to normal. It will not.

This is a war with a strong enemy. All new raids are timed to coincide with the completion of restoration works – this is the meaning of terror. Some key substations have already been attacked ten times and will be attacked again. Perhaps it is time to tell the truth and filter the fakes. All social networks are inundated with comments about the fact that there is no electricity because it is sold for export, which has been suspended since October 10; about the fact that it is the time to nationalize the already state-owned NPC Ukrenergo and find out where everything has been sold. About the fact that DTEK turns on the light in a residential complex for a bribe, which is absurd both in substance and technically. 

In communication, you probably should not start sorting things out at the level of “how many hours after how many rockets you can live without light.” It may come as a surprise, but media pacemakers are already laying the ground for a discussion about  the “search for the culprits of the blackout among energy workers.” For some, it is a war, and for others, it is a window of career opportunities. The task is to overthrow the leadership of Ukrenergo under the guise of insults, which Russian propagandists will certainly take advantage of right now.

It is clear that until October, the overwhelming majority of people did not care a button about how the energy system is arranged, but oughtn’t we fill this vacuum before the enemies and idiots do it?

We need 2–3-minute-long videos with visual descriptions of situations, diagrams, maps and honest texts saying that until spring in Kyiv, for example, the lights will be turned on for not more than 5–6 hours. And this is not the worst-case scenario. The city was deficient in electricity even before the war. Urbanization is to blame for this.

We mustn’t leave the organization of water supply and “Points of Invincibility” to chance. Both water sources and points should be in abundance; a thousand for a city with three million inhabitants and 11,000 high-rise buildings is not enough. Putting them just to tick the box is not an option.

And yes, preparing people for evacuation scenarios without fear of panic is also necessary. Everyone who is now living in the cities has already panicked.

In general, we need less publicity and more work. I understand that many people assumed power just to misappropriate land and solve their personal problems. War was not part of their plans.

For many, it still isn’t. Attempts to exploit natural resources (which are already scant) have become more persistent since spring. During World War II, people were executed by shooting for this, often fairly. 

We will have to forget about elections and remember about centralization. Even if you don’t want to.

The stakes are too high. It is literally about survival.

Read this article by Ihor Maskalevych in russian and Ukrainian.


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