Sunday, 23 Jun 2024

This is how Ukraine has survived the war on its power grid.

Electric trams are running again in Kyiv, and electric scooters dot the sidewalks. With curfew extended to midnight, the streets are bright and buzzing. Portable generators, nearly impossible to find as they flew off the shelves in December, are being sold at half price.

The Kremlin’s campaign to break the Ukrainian will to fight by turning winter into a weapon and knocking out power ultimately failed — but there were moments when it seemed that all might be lost.

The darkest week in a long, cold season came in mid-November, when Russian missiles streaked in from three directions, bearing down on Ukrainian power plants.

Energy officials, gathered in a secret bunker in Kyiv, watched alarms flash on the large screens mapping the country’s energy grid as critical substations, thermal power plants and hydroelectric facilities all went dark. Then something happened they had never seen before over weeks of bombardment: All of the nation’s nuclear power plants were thrown into blackout.

Within seconds, control rods positioned above reactors at Ukraine’s three working plants dropped into cores to absorb neutrons and stop the chain reaction that could lead to a meltdown. The reactors, which provide 50 percent of the country’s energy, went offline.

At the same time, Russian missiles and drones severed Ukraine’s connection to the European grid, a critical source of energy that has helped Ukraine prevent collapse in its own grid.

On a continent of light, Ukraine was an island of darkness. Millions had no heat. Lines formed at old wells as people lugged jugs of water to pitch-dark apartments in Kyiv. Internet service went down for many. Officials discussed mass evacuation plans.

“These were some of the most difficult days,” Ukraine’s energy minister, Herman Galushchenko, said in an interview.

Given the depth of the crisis — outlined in more than a dozen interviews with senior energy officials, utility workers, government officials and military intelligence — it is all the more remarkable that as winter has released its icy grip, Ukraine’s power grid not only survives but was even able, in early March, to produce surplus energy for the first time in months.

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