‘We have learned to conduct operations without electricity’: Power outages in Ukraine worsen


For Tetiana’s son, power supply is a matter of life and death.

He was born with a disability and needs electrical equipment to breathe, eat and get medication.

“We are very dependent on electricity. If this bloody war wasn’t here, life would be difficult, but we would survive,” Tetiana told the BBC.

Ukrainians are learning to cope with prolonged power outages as Russia continues to strain the country’s energy supplies.

Due to ongoing Russian airstrikes, even previously untouched parts of Ukraine are without power for hours almost every day.

Tetiana, who lives in the southern port city of Odessa, says the ongoing power outages make life extremely difficult as she has to ensure a constant power supply.

She has a gasoline powered generator that needs constant refueling, but it has to be stopped every six hours to cool down.

Power outages also affect cell phone connectivity, which can also make it difficult for her son to reach the ambulance service.

“Sometimes it takes half an hour, sometimes an hour for the ambulance to arrive, when my child is having convulsions and turning blue,” she says. “My son could die if he doesn’t get oxygen. I’m speechless.”

In the Tetiana district, power outages have recently lasted up to 12 hours a day.

For millions of Ukrainians, the power outage means no running water, air conditioning, elevators or access to life-saving equipment.

In the past three months alone, Ukraine has lost nine gigawatts of generating capacity, the national energy company Ukrenergo says. This is more than a third of the capacity Ukraine had before the large-scale invasion in February 2022. It is enough to power the whole of the Netherlands during peak consumption hours – or Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia combined, Ukrenergo says.

“All state thermal power stations have been destroyed. All hydroelectric power stations in our country have been damaged by Russian missiles or drones,” Ukrenergo spokeswoman Maria Tsaturian told the BBC.

The lack of generated electricity is exacerbated by rising summer temperatures, when Ukrainians turn on their energy-guzzling air conditioning systems.

To cope with the shortage, Ukrenergo has had to implement a policy of large-scale power cuts across the country, lasting many hours every day.

As a result, millions of Ukrainians have become increasingly dependent on fuel-powered generators or large power banks.

A generator runs on the street in KievA generator runs on the street in Kiev

Generators are an increasingly common sight in Ukraine (Getty Images)

The Ukrainian capital Kiev is experiencing prolonged power outages.

Roksolana was chosen by the residents of her 24-storey apartment building to help manage the building’s facilities.

She says it is not easy living in apartment buildings, as there is no running water on the upper floors due to power outages.

“The elevators are also not working, so mothers with children and disabled people have to wait. They plan their trips outside depending on when there is electricity,” she adds. “They have to stay inside for six hours at a time, our elderly ladies can’t just go to the store to get their bread.”

These residents of high-rise buildings are stuck in their sweltering apartments because the air conditioning is not working.

They are also more vulnerable to Russian airstrikes because they cannot go to the safety of bomb shelters, which are usually located underground.

In Zaporizhia, dentist Volodymyr Stefaniv says appointments often have to be rescheduled at the last minute and there have been cases where the electricity went out during a complicated operation.

“When this happens, we start our generators so we can finish what we started. There’s no other way — we can’t tell the patient to come back tomorrow,” he says. “Literally a couple of weeks ago, power outages became very frequent. Of course, they’re very disruptive.”

Volodymyr StefanivVolodymyr Stefaniv

Dentist Volodymyr Stefaniv faces power outage during surgery (Volodymyr Stefaniv)

To perform urgent or less complicated operations during a power outage, Mr. Stefaniv uses a headlamp. This is a skill he acquired and perfected while treating soldiers at the front, and his company still offers free or heavily discounted services to members of the Ukrainian army.

“I can treat toothache or swelling without electricity. We have learned to perform operations without electricity,” he says.

Maria Tsaturian of Ukrenergo knows there is a lot of anger directed at her company for cutting off electricity so often, for so long, and for so many customers. But, she says, there is no other option.

“We are at war. The energy sector is one of the targets of the Russian terrorists. And it is clear why: our entire life, our entire civilization, is built on electricity. You just have to destroy your enemy’s electricity grid, and they have no economy and no life,” she says.

“This is the price we pay for freedom.”

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