As Russia threatens Europe’s energy, Ukraine prepares for a tough winter

In a densely forested park surrounded by apartment blocks and a playground, a dozen workers have been busy in recent days with chain saws and axes, chopping down trees, chopping logs and driving them around the largest city of Lviv. Were cutting into firewood to keep in the hidden shed. in western Ukraine.

Ironworkers at a nearby forge are working overtime to store produce in a wood-burning stove. A place is being made for the storage of coal in the municipal depot.

Activity in Lviv is being played out in towns and cities across Ukraine, part of a nationwide effort to assemble an emergency arsenal of backup fuel and vital provisions as Russia tightens its grip on energy supplies across Europe.

As President Vladimir V. Putin has reduced the flow of natural gas to Ukraine’s European allies, with the government in Kyiv accusing Russia of destroying critical infrastructure that provides heat, water and electricity to millions of homes, businesses and factories .

“All cities are preparing for a hard winter,” said Andrey Sadovy, the mayor of Lviv, where Russian rockets knocked down three electrical substations in April, temporarily cutting power to the neighborhood. “Russia has turned off gas for our neighbors, and they are trying to pressure us as well,” he said. “Our goal is survival. We need to be prepared.”

The urgency grew after Russia cut gas supplies to Europe again last week, prompting the EU to announce it would reduce Russian gas imports so as not to be held hostage. Russia turned off gas taps for Latvia on Saturday after its government announced additional military aid for Ukraine, the latest in a string of European countries to do so.

Ukraine buys its natural gas from European neighbors, so the ban on deliveries to Europe also threatens its access to energy.

Ukrainians often say that they hope to defeat Russia by the time the cold weather arrives in October. But the leadership is also gearing up for the prospect of a drawn-out conflict in which Russia pressurizes by methodically throttling Ukrainians’ ability to keep warm.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians living in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region were ordered to evacuate this past weekend as months of relentless Russian bombing destroyed infrastructure needed to deliver heat and electricity.

“We understand that Russia can continue to target critical energy infrastructure before and during winter,” Ukraine’s Minister of Communities and Regions Development, Oleksey Chernyshov, said in an interview.

“They have demolished central heating stations in big cities, and the physical devastation is still happening across the country,” he said. “We’re working to repair the damage, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have more.”

Far from Ukraine’s embattled south-eastern front, campaigns are being conducted in forests and steel forges, at gas storage sites and power stations, and even in basement boiler rooms, as government fuel and Mobilizes areas to activate a blueprint for shelter.

Yuri Bolokhovets, head of Ukraine’s forest agency, said in a statement that hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of firewood are being harvested in forests across the country.

Under the government’s plan, so-called mobile heating units will be installed in cities of up to 200,000 people where the fire has cut heat or electricity, to help residents cope with the damage, as long as the infrastructure is damaged. could not be corrected.

Ukraine depends on a mix of natural gas and electricity generated by nuclear, hydroelectric and fossil-fuel power stations.

In an unexpected twist, the war has left Ukraine with an electricity surplus as millions fled the country and economic activity slowed, slashing demand. The war intensified long-standing efforts to disconnect Ukraine’s energy grid from Russia and Belarus and connect it directly to the European Union. last month, Ukraine began to export Small amounts of electricity to Romania, with the hope of eventually supplying European companies that have been affected by Russian natural gas cuts, are a potential source of valuable income.

But Ukrainian officials say the ability to supply electricity to the home, especially in the coming winter, when temperatures can drop far below freezing, is increasingly at risk as Russia continues to target energy-providing infrastructure. accelerates the campaign.

Russian shelling has affected thermal power plants across the country and more than 200 gas-fired boiler plants used for centralized heating. According to a report, about 5,000 km of gas pipelines have been damaged along with 3,800 gas distribution centers analysis By the Cannon Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, a think tank focused on Russia.

The gas is particularly important to Ukraine because it is used to heat thousands of high-rise apartment complexes, schools, post offices and municipal buildings that rely on centralized heating systems.

State-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz, maintains Largest gas reserves in Europe and has 11 billion cubic meters in storage. Andrey Zakrevsky, the head of the Ukrainian Oil and Gas Union, said on Monday that was enough to meet Ukraine’s needs before the war – but the level is nearly half What does the government want?

While Moscow’s gas cuts set off Europe’s race to secure new energy sources, pain is back in circles in Ukraine, which after Crimea’s 2014 annexation of Russia halted direct imports from Europe. Imports gas. Russia’s squeeze has pushed European gas futures prices to record levels, making imports more expensive at a time when the government in Kyiv is facing a budget crisis.

Due to which everyone has mobilized the country in a hurry.

Swiatoslaw and Zoriana Bielinski recently stocked the basement of their modest Lviv home with wood. The couple bought several batteries and several battery-operated lamps in case the lights went out, and they were preparing to buy bottles of gas for cooking.

“We have to start thinking about that,” said Mr. Bielinski’s sister, Eliza Bielinska, who helped stock the couple. “After all, we can survive without light and gas, but we wouldn’t be able to survive if invaders took over.”

Officials responsible for planning the city have made massive reserves, collecting thousands of tons of wood and coal in the past week alone. Lviv’s mayor, Mr Sadovy, said more supplies were on the way and ordered thermostats to lower by 15 °C (59 °F) as winter begins.

Recently, Mr. Sadowie buzzed around the City Hall courtyard, greeting locals who had gathered for regular demonstrations about preparing for heat and power cuts – or worse. Two emergency workers show residents how to put on a chemical suit in case of an attack: a gas mask firmly in place, a suit tightly sealed over the head.

The forge has shifted some production, preferring to make thousands of wood-burning stoves, some emblazoned with the Ukrainian coat of arms. More than 200 cities are building town hall stores, with tents that can house up to 50 people in the event that multifunctional apartment buildings are left without the gas needed to heat them.

The tents can be moved quickly to sites without electricity or heat, providing emergency shelter and stoves for boiling water and cooking, said Development Minister Mr. Chernyshov.

“We hope that we will not have to use them,” said Irina Dzuri, an administrative director in Lviv. “But this is an absolutely unusual situation. We are shocked by what we are facing and are concerned to make sure we have enough to keep people warm.”

Nearby, sheds recently built to stock firewood have been camouflaged by locals. Additional timber is expected in the coming weeks, from trees grown inside the city and from the vast forests of western Ukraine.

An hour’s drive north of Lviv, in a dense wood covered with pale sun, forestry service workers worked to generate enough firewood to supply a beleaguered nation. On a recent weekday, he cut down a grove of weathered oak trees and drove them to a sawmill, where a wooden field half the size of a football field was covered with freshly cut logs a meter high. went.

Firewood sales have doubled compared to a year ago, and prices have nearly tripled as stocks have risen in the country, said Yuri Hormyk, vice president of the Lviv Regional Forestry Department.

He said that even the forest is not safe from Russian attacks. The Ukrainian military recently shot down a rocket fired from Belarus at a nearby oil storage facility. The tanks – which were empty – were not damaged, but the explosion blew all the windows in the lumber storage warehouse and parts of the sawmill.

“The Russians will do anything to try to destroy us,” he said. “But no one has managed to unite us as much as Putin has.”

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