Putin's willing to take 'high casualties' over Ukraine says expert
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A Ukrainian energy expert has told Express.co.uk that Ukraine immediately needs an aid package worth hundreds of millions to help it make repairs to the energy grid as Russia prepares for more strikes targeting critical energy infrastructure. Amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of his neighbouring country, some of the most devastating attacks have been directed at Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure. While the missile volleys do cause some casualties, they have also left millions of citizens without power for hours. But as winter looms, there are fears another Russian strike amid freezing subzero temperatures could have more “catastrophic” than anything seen before.
Mark Savchuk, a Kyiv local and an expert in the energy sector with a postgraduate degree from the London School of Business and Finance, told Express.co.uk what the situation has been like for the capital’s 3.5 million people.
He said: “From time to time, we have to switch off some users from the grid as part of a scheduled power off for four, five or six hours without electricity to balance the grid. When there is shelling, we may go into a complete blackout. Last time, it took around 19 hours to bring power back online. 90 percent of the network was working for 16 hours, so nothing was working for that amount of time. It is horrible. When you have no power, nothing works. You have no water, no heating, no cellphone coverage.”
And he warned that the situation could get far worse if sufficient support from the West is not provided ahead of Putin’s next assault. He said: “During the winter, it is quite frightening because nothing works at all.
“It becomes really dangerous during the winter because if water freezes in the pipes, you basically can’t use it until spring – until you have positive centigrade temperatures so that the water will thaw inside the tubes so you can use it again.”
“We are talking about a complete total blackout during winter with subzero temperatures. This is the main issue. The first [most important] thing is running water, second is heating and the third is phone networks.
“If you are an elderly person and you feel ill you can’t even call an ambulance because there is no phone connection so it becomes incredibly difficult for people to survive who are not strong enough or maybe they have small children. If you have 10 days of subzero temperatures and your are alone, there are very serious health risks for your children if they are very small.
“Kyiv is a large city with at least 3.5million inhabitants and if you do not have the sewage system working, which when you don’t have electricity it doesn’t, it becomes a very serious health and safety issue. If a blackout lasted three or four days, it would become a serious issue and if you don’t have a working sewage system, it would be a catastrophe – that is why we need this immediate aid.”
But while 19 hours may have felt like a long time to be stuck in the dark and the cold, Mr Savchuk said they were lucky to have the power come back online in that space of time.
He said: “It is very risky, but we were very lucky to bring the grid back online in just 19 hours. It will usually take something like two to three days. This is a realistic scenario in the near future if the next wave of rockets will be the same as previous ones.
“We are bracing for exactly that scenario. We don’t know when exactly it will happen. But at some point in the future, it will for sure.”
Now, satellite images have revealed that Russia could be gearing up for a huge aerial assault, with two dozen long-range bombers and cruise missiles being prepared for combat at the Engels-Two airfield, near Saratov Oblast in Russia. Experts have warned that this could indicate that Russia is preparing for a similar attack to the strikes previously seen, but on a larger scale.
However, Ukrainians have been preparing for this moment. Mr Savchuk said: “Businesses in Ukraine are trying to buy as many diesel generators as possible to run at least their coffee shops or whatever off the grid. But this is a temporary solution as people will not be able to run them forever as we do not have enough diesel in the country.”
But, Kyiv can’t do it alone, and it is pleading with the West to send an even bigger package of support to help it get through a winter attack.
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Mr Savchuk said: “The main point is that our Government is in talks with Western Governments in order to get seismic help so that we can maintain critical infrastructure during the blackouts.”
“We need several power units of mobile generation of several megawatts. If for example, next week Russia fired the rockets and some hit the target – as some of our anti-air defences are also working – and we went into blackouts, this mobile generation would be able to sustain the critical infrastructure for at least the two or three days required to bring power back online.
“We need roughly $320million (£260million), for a package including a combination of mobile generation, large generators so that we can at least have the main critical infrastructure staying online during a blackout – this is for immediate short-term help and it would mean that most people would have running water and maybe heating during a blackout, even if it takes around a week.
“We are talking about preserving some quality of life even if everything goes down completely for quite a long time. We don’t have this package yet but it is nice that our Western partners know about this and that they have finally started committing some serious aid.”
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