KYIV, Ukraine — The head of Ukraine’s national electric utility was standing on the street outside its headquarters in central Kyiv two weeks ago when he heard a low rumble in the sky and saw for the first time a Russian attack drone. Minutes later, the force of the blast was still evident Friday in the blown windows and debris that littered the campus.
“Unfortunately, they hit hard,” Volodymyr Gudrytsky, chief executive of Ukrenergo, said in an interview in his office.
The drone that struck Ukrainergo’s headquarters was one of dozens of airstrikes carried out on October 10 that destroyed 30 percent of the country’s power plants in the days since. In a matter of weeks, Ukrainian electrical workers are racing to make repairs, but it’s a big challenge.
“Every day, they hit some target operated by Ukrainergo,” he said. Unlike a hurricane or other natural disaster, the Oct. 10 strikes were not an isolated incident, but what Russian officials said was the start of a protracted campaign of public harassment and subjugation of Ukraine to the Kremlin’s will.
Former President and Prime Minister of Russia and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry A. Medvedev said in a statement on Friday that Ukraine would restore energy stability only if Russia’s demands were recognized as reasonable.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the nation from the dark streets of Kiev late Thursday. “We’re not afraid of the dark,” he said. “We have no dark times without light, but no freedom.”
Mr. Zelensky, speaking on Friday night, said that about four million Ukrainians now live with restrictions on their access to electricity. People in cities across the country are struggling with power outages, the only way the country’s energy provider can prevent a “total blackout”.
Mr. Kudrytsky said.
“Imagine you are a substation maintenance worker,” said Mr. Kudrytsky said. “You know it’s a goal.”
Workers never know what they will find when they emerge from their bunkers.
An alarm goes off and the roar of an explosion can be heard from bunker workers, he said, adding that the missile or drone’s power is supplemented by the release of energy from electrical equipment. A strange smell, compared to the smell of burnt plastic, fills the air as he finally gets the all clear.
The entire power plant, he said, can feel like its own little city, with fires fueled by the oil used in the engines burning for hours. Alarms sound two or three times a day. Just as the workers gather what’s needed for repairs: boom, another explosion. Mr. Kudrytskyi said that a factory, a building where repair equipment was kept, was attacked.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “It’s so hard to imagine if you’re not in this terrible movie.”
The Russian target was very accurate, Mr. Gudrytskyi and other Ukrainian energy officials have said Moscow needs energy experts to help.
“I can’t imagine that military experts would know what things to add to do the most damage,” he said.
Ukraine has a strong energy system, Mr. Kudrytskyi said. Ukraine was exporting electricity a month ago, despite the loss of electricity generated by the country’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and the grid being destroyed in parts of the country where the fighting is rife. Missiles and drone strikes – Mr. Kutritsky said – it ended.
He said if the Russian attacks stopped today, power workers could largely restore power within a month. But they show no sign of ending.
Five utility workers have been killed and dozens injured in the strikes. Mr. Kudrytskyi said she was amazed by the dedication of the crews working to keep the lights on.
October 29, 2022
An earlier version of the image caption accompanying this article misstated the date of the repair by technicians in Zaporizhia, Ukraine. This was two weeks ago, not last week.
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