Eastern Europe holds the key to keeping Ukraine’s power on

  • Eastern Europe has electricity grids compatible with Ukraine’s
  • Russian attacks on infrastructure causing extensive damage
  • Ukraine has sent a list of hardware it needs from abroad

VILNIUS/WARSAW, Dec 21 (Reuters) – In Lithuania, a giant, unused electrical transformer built in 1980 in what is now Ukraine has been dusted off and ready for shipment. It will travel by sea to Romania and then back to Ukraine, possibly in the coming weeks.

Rokas Masiulis, head of Lithuania’s power grid, said his company was looking for storage facilities for anything else Ukraine might need to repair the damage caused to its power system by repeated Russian missile attacks.

“The Ukrainians say they are fine with receiving anything, including things that don’t work or are broken, because they can fix the equipment themselves,” he told Reuters.

As the West rushes to replenish Kyiv’s arms and ammunition stocks, countries in Europe and beyond are also racing to supply transformers, switches and cables as well as diesel generators needed to light and heat the country in winter.

Ukraine has shared with European countries a list of about 10,000 items it urgently needs to maintain power.

Former members of the Soviet Union and the ex-communist bloc have an important role to play given their proximity and that some grids in the region still have hardware compatible with Ukraine’s.

Masiulis said that the biggest need was for car transformers, like the one destined for Ukraine. Worth about 2 million euros ($2.13 million), it weighs nearly 200 tons and took two weeks to be stripped of removable parts and drained of oil for transport.

“We are in the process of upgrading our grid, and everything we strip, we send to Ukraine,” he said. Latvia, Lithuania’s northern neighbor and also once part of the Soviet Union, said it is sending five large transformers to Ukraine, two of which are set to move soon.

Since early October, Russian forces have targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing blackouts and forcing millions of people to endure sub-zero temperatures with little or no heating.

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Moscow says the strikes are justified as part of its “special military operation” to degrade Ukrainian forces. Kyiv and the West see the bombardment as a cynical attack on civilians to break their spirit and weaken the enemy.

Regional European bodies and countries including Azerbaijan, France, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and individual companies have already sent thousands of equipment to Ukraine.

“We are looking all over the world for replacements for the equipment destroyed during the attacks,” Jaroslav Demchenkov, Ukraine’s deputy energy minister, said in early December.

Ukraine has managed to avoid a “total collapse” of the electricity distribution system, he said, but disruptions are serious. About 80% of the Kyiv region was without electricity for two days this week after Russian missile and drone attacks.

Estimating the total value of the support is impossible, given the fragmented and rushed nature of the response, but transformers and generators worth tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars have been shipped.

Challenges include finding the right hardware to match Ukraine’s needs. As a former member of the Soviet Union, its power system is not always compatible with other countries, including neighbors to the north.

The supply of generators cannot match demand, company officials said, especially since some of the most necessary deliveries can take months.

“Unfortunately, high-voltage transformers, which we need the most, are not there yet,” Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of the Kyiv-based Energy Industry Research Center, said on Ukrainian state television on Wednesday.

He said there were a few in the world that could be shipped, but didn’t expect them to arrive before February at the earliest.

Giant transformers

Lithuania’s transmission grid operator has already sent hundreds of smaller transformers, which reduce the voltage as it travels from power plant to end user, and its gas grid has supplied spare parts to Ukraine.

Polish state-run utility Tauron said last week it had sent 21 kilometers (13 miles) of wire, nine drums, 129 insulators, 39 transformers and 11 overhead switches, which spokesman Łukasz Zimnoch described as gifts.

Some deliveries are in response to Ukrainian requests, while private companies there are ordering alternative supplies to keep businesses running.

Jerzy Kowalik, commercial director of Polish power generator maker EPS System, said the company receives many orders from Ukraine, some for dozens of large units at once.

“There is a problem with the availability of engines that we use in the midst of a global boom for generators fueled by the energy crisis,” Kowalik said. His company of about 100 employees cannot meet demand and rejects some requests from Ukraine.

Volodymyr Kudrystski, chairman of the board of the Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenergo, said that supplying urgently needed transformers is complicated by the fact that Ukraine’s standard power transmission lines are 750 kilovolts and 330 kV. Those in neighboring Poland, for example, are 400 kV and 220 kV.

Switches, disconnects and switches are also crucial as about 70 Ukrenergo repair teams, or about 1,000 people, are working around the clock to restore power and subcontractors have been hired.


During peak hours, Ukraine consumes approximately 16 Gigawatts of electricity. It can import up to 10% of that from neighboring systems, although lines connecting it to Poland were damaged in recent attacks before being restored and Romania is only a marginal source so far.

This means that Ukraine is using its own reserves of equipment, built before a possible invasion, and which were sent from abroad.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this month that 500,000 smaller generators had been imported by Ukrainian businesses, but that the country needed 17,000 large or industrial generator units to get through the winter.

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These were particularly important for critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water pumping stations.

One of the bodies controlling energy support in Europe is the Energy Community Secretariat, an international group established by the European Union and eight member states aspiring to EU membership.

Its director, Artur Lorkowski, said more than 60 private companies in Europe from 20 countries were involved, with 800 tons of equipment already shipped and dozens more deliveries planned.

As supplies of state-owned European power grids dwindle, Lorkowski expected the private sector to become more important in meeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure needs.

He added that talks are taking place through the G7 to tap companies in the United States, Canada and Japan.

“This would give us the scale that would make a difference in Ukraine,” Lorkowski told Reuters.

A first shipment of US electrical equipment worth $13 million has been sent to Ukraine, officials said, and two more planeloads were due to leave soon. Ukraine also held talks with Japan.

Lorkowski and some other officials predicted that hardware might have to be designed and built from scratch, although such a change would require time and money.

Ukrainian officials, who want to integrate Ukraine’s economy with Western Europe, are considering a major overhaul of the energy sector, although patching the current grid is the priority for now.

Some imported equipment has been donated, while countries and international lenders are also providing loans and grants to help Kyiv pay for the repairs.

Olena Osmolovska, director of the reform support team at Ukraine’s energy ministry, said it would cost tens of billions of dollars to fully restore the energy system.

($1 = 0.9406 euros)

Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Riga, Marek Strzelecki in Warsaw; Additional reporting by Olena Harmash and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Barbara Lewis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters’ Trust Principles.


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