Ukrainians are gathering firewood and candles in anticipation of a winter filled with Russian attacks on their energy grid.
A 13-year-old boy is chopping firewood in the modest backyard of a ruined home in preparation for winter. His mother, Tetiana Yarema, has been getting ready for months, recalling the previous winter’s Russian attacks on the energy system that left Ukraine without power.
Yarema, 48, stated that it was a difficult time and she had no desires. All she wished for was to leave and relocate to another country. However, her son convinced her to stay.
Like many other Ukrainian families impacted by Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, the Yarema family faces additional difficulties during the winter season.
After their house in Moshchun, a village located approximately 25 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, was destroyed during the initial days of the war, the mother and son now reside in trailers that have been installed in their backyard.
“I predict that once winter arrives, there will be a resumption of bombings,” the woman stated, reflecting the thoughts of numerous Ukrainian citizens.
This time around, they claim to be more equipped.
As summer came to a close, there was a significant increase in the purchase of generators. Some individuals with the means have opted to buy solar panels. Yarema, on the other hand, has been buying candles, batteries, flashlights, and portable lanterns, and taking advantage of discounted prices by stocking up on compact gas canisters.
“It may pose a challenge…but I have a plan,” she stated.
According to Ukrenergo, the state-owned grid operator in Ukraine, last winter was deemed the most difficult season for the country’s energy system. This was due to the onslaught of over 1,200 missiles and drones launched by Russians against power plants.
Nearly half of Ukraine’s energy capacity was affected by the strikes, resulting in people enduring hours without electricity and water during the coldest months. Ukrainian officials referred to this as “energy terror.”
Millions of people across Ukraine had to learn to work, live, and cover their basic needs without relying on electricity.
Ukrenergo reported that following a six-month break, Ukraine’s energy system was targeted with an attack on September 21. This led to the destruction of infrastructure in the central and western regions.
The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has pledged to significantly improve air defense systems, which have proven to be more effective than the previous year.
Zelenskyy emphasized the importance of collective defensive measures to prevent Russian aggression from stopping Ukraine’s progress this winter. He compared this to being resilient and strong on the battlefield in all aspects.
The Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal, recently declared that the US has provided $522 million for energy equipment and safeguarding Ukraine’s infrastructure.
“We are on the cusp of a challenging winter. With the help of our allies, we were able to overcome the previous winter, which was the toughest in our history,” stated Shmyhal.
The major retailer Epicenter reported a significant increase in generator sales of 80% in the month of August, compared to the previous year. Additionally, sales of portable charging stations saw a drastic increase of 25 times.
Yurii Musienko, aged 45, who also resides in Moshchun, intends to heavily rely on firewood. He has a wood-burning stove in his small wooden trailer, which has been given to him for the past two years. It is situated next to his destroyed house.
“I have already adjusted,” he stated with a grin. The gates of his residence still display the punctures caused by detonated ammunition, serving as a reminder of the attempted takeover of the Ukrainian capital by Russian forces.
“Let no one ever have to experience these conditions,” stated Valentyna Kiriian, the mother who resides in a different plastic trailer within the same yard.
She wears a hat and coat, and has several layers of clothes on to keep warm. She mentions that the chill has already arrived, causing her to sleep in her clothes, just like last winter.
In the winter, when there were power outages, the mother and son had to rely on canned food. Sometimes, Valentyna would go to her neighbor’s house, which was not affected by the outages and had a gas stove for boiling water.
She expressed that it is challenging for her to discuss and it deeply saddens her, causing her heart to ache.
DTEK, a private energy company in Ukraine, has dedicated the past seven months to repairing its infrastructure and strengthening the security measures for its equipment in preparation for the upcoming winter season.
According to CEO Maxim Timchenko, the company spent approximately 20 billion Ukrainian hryvnias ($550 million) in preparation for the upcoming season. However, due to disruptions caused by Russian attacks last year, the company suffered losses in the billions of hryvnias.
Timchenko stated that they have learned their lessons.
Andrii Horchynskyi, 49. who lives in the village of Maliutianka about 25 kilometers southwest of Kyiv, has invested more than $30,000 in recent years to ensure his house is self-sufficient, and ramped up those efforts since Russia’s invasion.
Last year, he spent $12,000 to install solar panels to help power his spacious house, where other members of his extended family came to stay for the winter — eight of them surviving comfortably.
Horchynskyi remembered that there was a large colony of ants in this location.
The individual believes that the Russians will attempt to harm Ukraine’s gas infrastructure, causing it to become costly or possibly unavailable. To prepare, he has set up a boiler that utilizes pine pellets as fuel and has also stockpiled one-and-a-half cubic meters of water in his backyard.
According to Horchynskyi, they will intensify their attacks this winter compared to the previous year.