KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – The decorative candles Yaroslav Vedmid bought more than a year ago were never meant to be lit, but the dried wax now clinging to them is a testament to how they were used almost every night – a Consequence of power outages across Ukraine.
Sitting at the dinner table with his wife in a village on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, the two can’t count the number of times they’ve eaten in the dark since Russian attacks triggered power outages in early October. Moscow has openly declared its intention to target the country’s energy infrastructure and drive the nation into the abyss.
“When you’re dependent on electricity, the worst thing is that you can’t plan… Psychologically, it’s very uncomfortable,” said Vedmid, a 44-year-old business owner in Bilohorodka. The cuts are getting longer – nearly 12 hours of downtime a day, he said.
So far, Russia has destroyed about 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, affecting 16 regions, according to the Ukrainian government.
The latest attack came on Monday, when a massive barrage from Russian cruise missiles and drone strikes hit Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities, cutting out water and electricity supplies in apparent retaliation for a Moscow-claimed Ukrainian attack on its Black Sea fleet.
In Kyiv, about 80% of consumers in the city of 3 million were left without water on Monday due to damage at a power plant. By Tuesday, water was fully restored, as was some electricity. The governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said that 20,000 apartments in the region remained without electricity.
The unpredictable power outages are increasing as the government scrambles to stabilize the power grid and repair the system ahead of winter. The cuts add another layer of fear and insecurity to a population already struggling with the stress of nearly nine months of war.
To relieve people, energy companies publish daily schedules for when neighborhoods are without electricity. But it’s not consistent, especially as strikes increase. Last week, a power plant in the central region was damaged, prompting an emergency shutdown and prompting the government to warn citizens of harsher and longer outages.
“Unfortunately, the destruction and damage is severe,” Kyiv Region Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a Telegram post. “There is a need to prepare for emergency power outages indefinitely,” he said.
Throughout the capital, residents stock up on heaters, blankets, warm clothing and power banks to charge electronic devices. While most say they are willing to shoulder the brunt of the war’s power outages, the frequency and flow of the outages are exhausting.
As of Tuesday, the government plans to change the Kiev metro’s timetable to accommodate longer waiting times to save energy.
On the day The Associated Press visited Vedmid’s home in October, there was an unplanned five-hour power outage and then a planned one during dinner.
Every time the electricity goes off, the family loses internet connection. Since the village also has a weak telephone network, the household is often unable to communicate with others.
Vedmid stares at his phone and shrugs. Google Maps isn’t working and he doesn’t know how long it will be before he gets to the train station for a planned trip to the country with his wife.
However, he is most concerned about the coming months, when temperatures could plummet to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). “My biggest fear is the cold season, winter, because right now it affects our comfort but doesn’t threaten our lives,” he said.
The family has ordered a generator to be installed by December, but demand has skyrocketed and not everyone can afford to buy one or the fuel to run it. Diesel has doubled in price since the war began, local residents said.
Still, some have found a silver lining to the shutdowns. Vedmid’s wife Olena said she reads more books instead of constantly updating the internet to see the latest war developments. It helps her feel less anxious.
Without Russia’s incessant shelling and lack of repair equipment, much of which would have to be imported, the damage could be repaired within weeks, energy experts said.
“The main danger is repeated missile attacks,” said Professor Gennadii Riabtsev, chief researcher on energy security at the National Institute for Strategic Studies. Residents of cities near the front lines like Mykolaiv, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv will suffer the most from the outages, he said.
DTEK, Ukraine’s main energy company, said it had run out of equipment for repairs. Equipment costs run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Russia is likely to continue the war into the winter in hopes of weakening Western support for Ukraine and “freezing Europe into surrender,” according to a report released this week by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based institute resident think tank.
Residents near the frontline say they are bracing for conditions to worsen.
Mariia Chupinina was struggling with power outages in Kharkiv even before the region’s rolling outs began this week. The orphan caretaker lives on the fifth floor of an apartment building and takes care of four babies who are younger than 12 months. If there’s no electricity, the apartment can’t be heated, and every time they leave they have to walk down five flights of stairs in the dark, she told the AP over the phone.
If Chupinina forgets to plan ahead, the babies will have nothing to eat. “If you don’t prepare, you don’t have time to fill the thermos and there’s no hot water or formula,” she said.