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Geopolitics

Kyiv Blackout Siege: Russian Strikes On Power Grid Are A War Crime In The Making

Russia takes away light, water, and heat from Ukrainians with their missile strikes against the nation's energy infrastructure. It is a very intentional strategy of cruelty.

Photo of a pedestrian crossing the street during blackout

Man crossing street during blackout in Kyiv due to Russian shelling

Maria Zholobova

KYIV — The Russian Defense Ministry reported in matter-of-fact terms on the strikes with "high-precision weapons" "against military command facilities and energy systems. Russian TV channels and propagandists on the Telegram social network explain that these attacks have military significance: Ukrainians "will not be able to deliver either ammunition or fuel, and then the Ukrainian army will turn into a crowd of armed men with nothing but pieces of iron."

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But in fact, the touted new tactics and military precision adds up to Russia striking Ukrainian civilians.

Gennady Ryabtsev, a member of the expert council at Ukraine's Agency on Energy Efficiency, lives in the area of the thermal power plant. "There was shelling: one "shahed" [an Iranian drone] crashed into a residential building across from this plant, another flew into the yard of a business center, police hit the third, a fourth fell on the roof of the administrative building of Ukrenergo, the call center there went out of order, and a fifth fell somewhere in the yard of this thermal power plant," Ryabtsev recounted. "That is the destruction of energy facilities by high-precision weapons."

Those missiles and drones that hit power plants and power lines are aimed to hit civilians: both hospitals and schools in Kyiv are now without heat and light work.


Living in winter without heat and light is simply impossible, and more than half of the households in Ukraine have centralized heating. Already two weeks ago, 30% of power plants were destroyed.

Curfew in place

"We didn't have anything at any plant that protected it from air attacks," Ryabtsev said. "All the paramilitary guards at energy facilities focus on preventing terrorist attacks. But, sorry, not from missiles."

Selecting civilian objects as targets is a war crime, noted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba: "These strikes should be considered part of the Russian genocide of the Ukrainian people."

Nights now are completely dark, everywhere.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has already asked those Ukrainians who are now abroad not to return home until spring.

Nights in Kyiv now are completely dark, everywhere. There are no streetlights or signs. A curfew is in order. The trams have stopped: some routes have been replaced by buses, but not all. Traffic lights do not work. Police have asked residents to attach reflective stripes to clothing or cross the road with a flashlight - so that drivers can see. In the period Oct. 10-23, 51 pedestrians died in Ukraine, 25% more than in the previous two weeks.

"Darkness is not what's scary. Scary is when you suddenly hear the sound of a drone or a whistling sound over your head," says Olga, a resident of Kyiv. She notes that the drones sound like mopeds, so now Ukrainians flinch when a real moped passes.

No cooking, no washing

Since the beginning of the shelling, electricity in Kyiv has been turned off on schedule, to ration power. Ukrainian energy company DTEK said in a statement that due to damage to the power system in Kyiv, there was a 30% deficit of power consumption, so "in the coming days more severe and prolonged outages will be applied."

Olga has an electric stove and a boiler. "If suddenly the power is cut off, there is no cooking, no washing," she notes. The supermarket near her house is still open, thanks to a generator. "But outdoor coffee shops, pharmacies, and small stores are closed."

Espreso TV journalist Andrei Yanitsky says employees have been moved from Kyiv to Lviv, in western Ukraine, where the company has a studio that is better protected. In the case of air-raid alarms arriving in Lviv, the team has equipped a second studio in the parking lot - "almost a bomb shelter."

Yanitsky says he used to be able to work from home, but now has to look for places around the city where there is light, or otherwise limit his work to short periods when there is light. "And unfortunately, the light is always cut suddenly," he explains, "the light goes out, and no mobile Internet too.”

Photo of a car driving on a dark road

Car driving on empty dark road during power outage in Kyiv

Adaa Zagorodnya/ZUMA

Hospitals, between life and death

Ukrainians have already said goodbye to normal heating in advance: the indoor temperature will be kept at 17 degrees Celsius (62 F), about four degrees below average, the head of Naftogaz Yuriy Vitrenko warned.

Generators have their limits.

"My wife had surgery. When the air raid sirens started, she had already been put under anesthesia. The doctor said, "Well if they had not injected anesthesia, they would have kicked her out of the operating room. That's the rule."

After Russian missile strikes, the medics switch to backup power from generators when the infrastructure breaks down for critical facilities: intensive care units, ventilators, and dialysis units. For the moment, non-urgent surgeries have been postponed.

"COVID helped. All medical facilities were obliged to install backup power supplies, generators, heat pumps, and so on, depending on their capabilities," Ryabtsev explains.

But the generators have their limits: "Backup power supplies may work for a day or two," he explains. "But after that, you must restore the power supply because no fuel reserves will be enough, of course."

Irina Kondratova, head of the perinatal center in the Kharkiv hospital, says that it is too risky to rely on generators: "It may take about 15 to 20 minutes from the moment the electricity is turned off until it comes back from the generator. What do you do for 15 to 20 minutes if the baby isn't breathing?"

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