Russian attacks on energy infrastructure leaves Ukraine in dark as winter approaches

Eight months into the war in Ukraine, Russia is pursuing a new form of escalation: drone and missile attacks on power plants and infrastructure. President Zelenskyy said 40% of the country’s energy system was destroyed by Russian shelling, and accused Russia of "energy terrorism." The attacks and blackouts have left millions in the dark as winter comes. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Eight months into the war in Ukraine, Russia is targeting Ukraine's civilian infrastructure with attacks on power plants and energy infrastructure.

    President Zelenskyy says 4.5 million Ukrainians have no power, and he accuses Russia of energy terrorism.

    Nick Schifrin speaks to Ukraine's energy minister about the challenges of keeping the lights and the heat on as the cold winter begins.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Now is the winter of Ukraine's disconnect.

    In the capital Kyiv, half-a-million have no power, this entire apartment complex lit only by headlights, small shops lit only by candles. Ukraine has instituted rolling blackouts and asked its population to save electricity. So, as residents adjust their eyes, so too they adjust their behavior. Commutes can be illuminated by cell phone. Flowers can be sold by flashlight.

    In the last month, Russia has targeted Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Hundreds of strikes by Iranian-made drones and Russian missiles have damaged at least a third of the country's power plants, nearly all of its major substations and distribution lines.

  • GERMAN GALUSHCHENKO, Ukrainian Energy Minister:

    They are losing on the battlefield, and now they are doing these acts of terror against the civilians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    German Galushchenko is Ukraine's energy minister and a member of the National Security Council.

    How large is the challenge that you face today?

  • German Galushchenko:

    It's the hardest time for the energy system right now. Of course, they know what they're hitting. And they're trying to split the system, I mean, not to give us possibility to maintain the system.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    One analyst we spoke to described this as Whac-A-Mole, that the Russians will hit some of the infrastructure, you will fix it as quickly as you can, and the Russians will hit the same infrastructure again.

    Is that how it feels to you?

  • German Galushchenko:

    Yes. Yes, it's true.

    And so we already have some examples, when, for instance, they hit one capacity for almost 10 times. And so when we restore, they hit it again, and then hit it again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The crews are in the crossfire. Ukraine says, since the beginning of the war, 50 repairmen have been killed and more than 100 wounded, including by mines that destroyed a power truck last week.

    And now the country's largest energy company warns it's running out of replacement parts. Many are Soviet era and difficult to find.

  • German Galushchenko:

    It's most important now to find this equipment, and then another issue how to receive it, so how quickly we could receive it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You have sent lists of items that you need to Brussels, to the European Union, as well as here in Washington to the U.S. government.

    What's been the response?

  • German Galushchenko:

    Absolutely support. So, we are in everyday communication. We identify what we need. We identify what we already receive. We identify what could be received in the future, how we could speed up this process.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Speed is of the essence. The computers and communications that the military rely on all need electricity. So does the country's heating.

    Officials worry some residents could have no heat this winter. But they insist, though they may have no power, they're not powerless.

  • German Galushchenko:

    Of course, I think that is one of the goals of Russia, to deprive us not only electricity, but heating. I'm sure they would fail to achieve this result.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Ukraine's energy and heating remains vulnerable. Kyiv knows it must find better protections, perhaps moving infrastructure underground.

    But thinking long term is impossible when they're putting out fires every day.

  • German Galushchenko:

    The energy system also supposed to be reconstructed, taking into account the military threat from Russia, because, I mean, even after our victory, Russia would still be our neighbor.

    And that means that all the threats would be for all of our life and the life of our kids. So we need time to do this. And in our — today's situation, so our first task is to maintain the system and to survive.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Survive another day and another winter.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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