KYIV, Ukraine — As Ukraine braced for severe power shortages following an extensive bombing campaign by Russia of civilian infrastructure, the governor of Kyiv on Thursday urged residents of the capital region to shut electrical appliances between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., including electric heaters, washing machines, boilers and other devices, like refrigerators and WiFi routers, considered essential to modern life.
“This applies to everyone,” the governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, tweeted. “Today, even one saved kilowatt is a help to our energy system.”
Ukrenergo, the national electric transmission company, said that short-term shutdowns of electric service had begun on Thursday in parts of the capital city, where the system was weakest after consumption reached unacceptably high levels. Similar planned outages have also been imposed in other cities across the country, including Kharkiv, Dnipro and Sumy.
Ukrenergo also posted a graphic on social media, using a traffic light system of green, yellow and red to specify times during the day to “use,” “use with limits,” or “don’t use” electrical appliances.
Russian bombs have destroyed roughly one-third of Ukraine’s 104 autotransformers, crucial components of the country’s Soviet-era power system, which make it possible for electricity produced by the country’s nuclear, gas and coal-fired plants, to be transmitted across a vast network of trunk lines, Ukrainian officials said — raising fears of a winter without, power, heat or hot water.
The warnings of potential rolling blackouts, and the pleas for a nationwide conservation effort, including from President Volodymyr Zelensky, highlighted how Russia’s merciless airstrike campaign is forcing Ukrainians already worn down by eight months of invasion and war, to sacrifice even more.
On Thursday evening, Zelensky warned darkly of yet another potential infrastructure attack. In a speech to European Union heads of state and government, he warned that Russia was planning to destroy the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant near Kherson, which could cause uncontrolled flooding.
“According to our information, the aggregates and dam of the Kakhovka HPP were mined by Russian terrorists,” Zelensky said. “Now everyone in the world must act powerfully and quickly to prevent a new Russian terrorist attack. Destroying the dam would mean a large-scale disaster.”
Russia’s stepped-up airstrikes on civilian infrastructure started with a barrage of 83 missiles on Oct. 10 — roughly half of which were reportedly shot down by air defenses. And it has continued sporadically over the last 11 days, with cities like Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia especially hard hit. Russia has also used Iranian-made kamikaze drones, with their ominous moped-like buzz, to hit infrastructure targets.
Officials said that it was impossible to predict how long the Russian air campaign would continue, or to estimate when, or even if, Ukraine would be able to make repairs allowing a return to normal utility service. Replacing the destroyed transformers alone will cost upward of $150 million, officials said, but the bigger problem is not cost but figuring out how to defend them from repeated Russian attacks.
Officials said Ukraine had appealed for help from Israel, which is known for its expertise in air defense.
One official said the damage from the Russian airstrikes could reach into the “billions.”
Perhaps more vital is the question of what impact a weakened energy system will have on the country’s economy and public morale, with winter fast approaching. Far from breaking the national will, however, some predicted that the need for Ukrainians to tighten their belts and hunker down for periods of cold and dark would only reinforce feelings of unity and patriotism, and strengthen resolve to defeat Russia.
As streetlights were being turned off at night in Kyiv and in cities across the country — to conserve electricity and, presumably, to thwart airstrikes — Ukrainian officials reinforced their pleas for conservation.
Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko said on national television that Moscow’s fierce assault on Ukraine’s energy facilities so far had numbered around 300 airstrikes and included “missiles, artillery and drones.” Dozens of people have been killed.
Because of the damage, Galushchenko said a 20 percent reduction in consumption among Ukrainians would “critically help” to reduce the strain on the electrical system. However, if these targets aren’t met, then officials would be “forced to introduce mandatory shutdowns,” he said.
The key, Galushchenko said, was explaining to people the need to drastically reduce energy use — which he described as a patriotic act of utmost importance.
“We understand that we need more communication, we need to talk to people and explain to them that right now we are all united for the victory on the energy front, which is also important and is the second front,” Galushchenko said.
In his nightly speech to Ukrainian citizens Zelensky said Russia’s attacks on infrastructure would backfire. “Russia is trying to destroy the energy system of Ukraine, to make our people suffer even more,” he said. “But this only mobilizes the international community to help us even more and put even more pressure on the terrorist state.”
Ukrenergo spokesperson Mariia Tsaturian said that the “main reason for the shutdowns” was “the energy terror that we see from Russians against the civil infrastructure,” which targeted the grid, power stations, substations, as well as the energy generation companies themselves.
“Our power grid is under huge pressure, and we need time to restore it,” Tsaturian said.
Experts said that Ukraine’s primary problem was the damage that disrupted its transmission system. National energy consumption has plummeted since the start of the war, with millions of residents fleeing the country, and businesses shuttered. The low use had even led to excess power production that allowed Ukraine to begin exporting electricity to European Union countries, providing much-needed revenue.
But now, even in the northwest of the country, where power generation capabilities remain intact, there is limited ability to transmit the power. Officials said they are developing workarounds but that without the destroyed transformers, the capacity of the system is vastly reduced.
In an interview with The Washington Post, presidential economic adviser Rostyslav Shurma, who is also a deputy head of administration, said that officials were still calculating the losses inflicted by the Russian bombing campaign. So far, they estimated the damage to be around $2 billion. But the final figure could be “a few billion.”
“We do not understand yet the full amount of the damages, because every day we have dozens of drones and dozens of missiles attacking our assets,” Shurma said. “The amount could can be quite different, but the damage is quite severe.”