Winter hasn’t officially started, but Ukraine is already covered in snow. As temperatures dip a few degrees below zero, the nation is grappling with an electricity deficit. Ukrainians have been urged by the national power company to use electricity sparingly during the day and take measures such as switching on the washing machine at night. It’s just a taste of what’s about to come: for Russia, the cold is a weapon – and missile strikes aimed at power stations seek to freeze the nation into surrender.
Last winter, even though Ukraine’s air defence systems downed hundreds of Russian missiles and drones, Russian forces managed to successfully strike Ukrainian energy facilities 271 times. The average Ukrainian household endured five cumulative weeks without electricity. Thousands were deprived of heat and water supply. My family, like many others in rural homes, use wood burners, so they weren’t as badly affected as those in the cities. But across the country the cascade of blackouts caused damage costing more than $11 billion, with half of the entire energy system lost.
Ukraine’s power grid has mostly recovered since last year’s attacks. Our defences are stronger. The main networks have been surrounded by protective barriers made using mesh wire, stones, sandbags and nets the size of tennis courts. Ukraine has received more air defences and stocked up on coal, while backup gas and electricity generators have been set up to protect critical infrastructure like hospitals, boiler houses and water canals.
But that won’t be enough. Some of the power units are still being repaired, and the restored ones can’t match the pre-damage capacity. This week, a cold spell has placed power plants under additional pressure – and it’s not even December, when temperatures can reach -15°C.
Russia has reportedly saved up some 800 missiles to use this winter and trebled the size of its drone fleet.