‘Energy genocide’: Ukraine pleads for urgent help as Russia blitz on infrastructure grows

Exclusive: Ukraine’s energy minister German Galushchenko tells Bel Trew in Kyiv that Moscow is trying to sow ‘darkness and despair’ with its all-out assault on the country’s power plants

Wednesday 26 October 2022 19:27 BST
A view shows a fifth thermal power plant hit by a Russian missile strike in Kharkiv
A view shows a fifth thermal power plant hit by a Russian missile strike in Kharkiv (Reuters)

Russia is committing “energy genocide” by bombing nearly half of Ukraine’s power infrastructure, the government has said as Ukrainian officials warned the damage could spark Europe’s worst humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War.

Speaking to The Independent, energy minister German Galushchenko said Russia wanted to “sow darkness and despair” with daily “en masse” strikes on the electricity supply chain, which together with the occupation of facilities, has left many without power.

He said at least 40 per cent of its total energy infrastructure has been damaged, including massive destruction to green generation facilities.

In total, 90 per cent of Ukraine’s wind generation and 40 per cent of their solar power capacity has been decommissioned, he added.

Mr Galushchenko spoke as Ukrainian energy officials warned the wave of strikes since 10 October was likely the “largest attack on energy infrastructure in history”.

They said the situation was so critical that Ukraine has had to stop providing electricity to the European Union, exports which had been helping Europe to replace Russian energy resources.

“Russia cannot win on the battlefield by giving in to our armed forces, so it has decided to go down the path of energy genocide,” Mr Galushchenko said.

“The Russians are intentionally attacking our energy facilities right now, when the cold has started and energy supply is of particular value to citizens. Their plan is to sow not only darkness but also despair among Ukrainians.”

He urged the country’s Western partners to provide more air defence systems that could be deployed specifically to protect energy and nuclear facilities.

People standing as darkness descends in downtown Kyiv
People standing as darkness descends in downtown Kyiv (EPA)

“We fight for [Europe] too. And we hope that your support will continue because our skies still need protection,” he implored.

Ukraine’s energy companies also sounded the alarm.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, chairman of Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s grid operator, told The Independent the barrage of strikes was the “biggest attack on energy infrastructure in history”.

“The scale of these attacks is unseen in the world,” he said. “We are speaking about hundreds of missiles launched specifically at electricity transmission infrastructure. I cannot remember any other instance [where] we have seen such a scale of destruction.”

Meanwhile, Antonina Antosha, from DTEK, the largest private energy investor in Ukraine which controls multiple power plants, warned the damage will leave millions of people in the country without light and heat, sparking “the biggest humanitarian disaster since 1945”.

“We are convinced that this is only the beginning and that attacks on other objects will continue. The craziest scenario is an attack on a nuclear power plant,” she added.

Ukraine has been plunged into darkness by an unprecedented wave of Russian strikes on the energy grid, right as a bitter winter approaches.

Moscow has repeatedly acknowledged targeting energy infrastructure but denies targeting civilians or violating international law since President Putin launched his invasion of the country in February.

Their plan is to sow not only darkness, but also despair among Ukrainians

German Galushchenko, Ukraine energy minister

However, Amnesty International and other rights groups have said the attacks on the facilities could amount to war crimes.

“The Russian army clearly intends to undermine industrial production, disrupt transportation, sow fear and despair and deprive civilians in Ukraine of heat, electricity and water as the cold grip of winter approaches,” said Marie Struthers, the group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director.

“The morale of the civilian population is not a lawful target, and carrying out these attacks with the sole purpose of terrorising civilians is a war crime,” she added.

President Zelensky has personally appealed to citizens to reduce energy consumption, as scheduled four-hour power cuts have been rolled out across the country to stabilise the embattled grid.

The energy ministry said that civilians had responded to the call already, reducing consumption nationally by up to 10 per cent. But that is still not enough to halt needed planned power cuts which are expected to get much longer, with Kyiv officials warning citizens last week to brace for up to a week without power.

The pressure on the system has become so severe deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged Ukrainian refugees to stay away.

In a TV interview on Tuesday, Ms Vereshchuk told Ukrainians currently sheltering abroad that they should wait until spring before returning home.

She said the grid “won’t survive” the return of refugees from abroad, and that the situation would “only get worse”.

Mr Galushchenko told The Independent a major part of the problem they were facing was that after they carried out repair and restoration work, sites would often be bombed again.

Power outages are seen in Kyiv city centre
Power outages are seen in Kyiv city centre (Getty)

At least 54 workers in the energy industry have been killed, often in double-tap attacks on electricity distribution systems, trunk networks, substations and thermal generation, Mr Galushchenko said.

“The enemy’s goal is to make it difficult to reconnect the power supply from other sources. Often they fire at the same objects over and over again until they are completely destroyed,” he added.

Kudrytskyi said that Ukraine believes Russia is using Soviet-era maps of Ukraine, coupled with open-source information to precisely strike the grid.

He said they were hitting Ukrenego’s substations sometimes with “six or seven rounds of shelling” at one time.

“Often Russians repeat the attack, like a double tap, sometimes a triple-tap attack,” he added, saying that five of their personnel have been killed.

Ms Antosha, of DTEK, warned that these blackouts could mean that civilians will die, as temperatures dip well below zero.

Of the six thermal power plants under DTEK’s control, five of them have already been attacked. Ten employees have been injured and one killed.

There are also concerns about Ukraine’s renewable energy sector.

Ukraine had sought to diversify the energy sector before the war, with officials boasting of rapid growth of its green energy sector that pre-war provided the country with about 11 per cent of the country’s total energy mix. Since the invasion about 90 per cent of wind and about 50 per cent of solar power has been decommissioned.

There are also growing fears about the country’s nuclear power plants.

Russia has occupied the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) since March. It is the largest in Europe and can produce more than 6,000 MW of power.

A part of Kyiv in darkness during cyclical power cutoffs
A part of Kyiv in darkness during cyclical power cutoffs (EPA)

Ukraine claims around 500 soldiers and military vehicles are occupying the power plant and that Ukrainian personnel working there have been tortured and coerced into working.

“In an attempt to disconnect the ZNPP from Ukraine’s power system, the Russians have already put the plant into blackout mode three times by firing at the power lines that provide its power,” Minister Galushchenko said.

“At that time, [the plant] was working on diesel generators, which could also be fired upon by the Russian military forces at any moment. And then the Fukushima scenario may await us.”

He called on Russian troops and personnel to immediately leave the nuclear plant and for the International Atomic Energy Agency to create a neutral zone where neither Russian nor Ukrainian military are present.

The European Commission has urged European Union countries and companies to donate more money and equipment to support the energy sector in Ukraine.

But the energy ministry said it needed air defence systems to halt the strikes, as reconstructing power plants and substations was pointless if they get hit again.

“Our skies still need protection. Protection, including for energy and nuclear facilities,” he said. “We need air defence systems, we needed them yesterday.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in