KYIV, Ukraine – A “cold” war is building here in Ukraine at the hands of Vladimir Putin. As their progress slows on the battle front, Russian forces have been targeting civilian infrastructure. With winter closing in, and power, heat and water going, it could be Moscow’s most dangerous tactic.
“Militarily it’s absolutely nothing,” Ukrainian Member of Parliament Oleksiy Goncharenko explained, “but yes, it can cause a lot of suffering for civilians.”
The numbers tell the tale. Some 450,000 people were without power in Kyiv in the past week and nearly 5 million nationwide. Some 40% of the electrical grid has been damaged as well as 80% of the power plants.
The word is that energy managers from the days when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union still have all the maps of the power grid, and they are feeding that information to the military side. One Kyiv official branded these Russian electrical engineers…”war criminals.”
The CEO of the biggest private utility in Ukraine, DTEK, Maxim Timchenko, said the country faces the possibility of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
As we were reminded, everything these days is interconnected. So, if you knock out power, you also cut cellphone service, shut down gas stations, turn off refrigerators for food, close pumps for water etc.
No wonder there was a recent report Kyiv was readying plans to evacuate the entire city of 3 million if things get worse. Officials told us the story was premature, but they are taking measures.
Officials just announced an increase of emergency, hourly black-outs to save power. Some 1000 energy hubs across the city have opened up for people to use. Security at sites is more on guard with repair teams working around the clock.
Ukraine has been pretty good at knocking down Russian missiles and drones, but some strikes are still getting through. The U.S. and allies have announced they are dispatching more air defense systems and munitions.
The hotel we work out of here in Kyiv has a big back-up generator, so aside from some flickering of lights from time to time, we have been spared the brunt of the black-outs… so far.
However, all it takes is a look on the once bright, now dark city, or walk the dusky and tricky streets, or hear stories from local staffers about how their homefronts are badly affected, and you are reminded of the impact these Russian moves are having here.
Additionally, no place is really safe. We went to the headquarters of DTEK CEO Timchenko to conduct our interview. An air raid alert forced us to do it in the firm’s parking garage-turned bomb shelter.
Timchenko’s message, however, was not muted. “We have no choice to defend our country and to find a solution,” he told us, “to keep the lighting on, to keep this country heated and to keep our people in the fight.”
As the temperatures here start to drop below freezing at night, their actions could not happen any sooner.