Energy SECURITY 24 March, 2023 9:00 am   
COMMENTS: Joanna Słowińska

Ukrenergo CEO: Ukraine is rebuilding energy infrastructure faster than Russia is destroying it. We don’t have a choice (INTERVIEW)

Wolodymyr-Kudrytski-Ukrenergo-1536×1023 Volodymyr Kudrytsky. Picture by Ukrenergo.

We use equipment delivered from European countries, especially Poland, to continue the reconstruction. We are rebuilding the energy infrastructure faster than Russia can destroy it. We have no other choice – said Volodymyr Kudrytsky the CEO of Ukrenergo in an interview with You are engaged in the critical task of maintaining the energy supply in Ukraine. We’ve heard about Russia’s new tactic to aim not just at the grid, but also at the power plants. What is the current situation?

Volodymyr Kudrytski: The Russians began attacks on power plants in October 2022. They managed to damage virtually every combined heat and power plant and hydroelectric power station located in the occupied area. They are temporarily occupying facilities such as the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest facility of its kind in Europe. We have lost more than half of the country’s power plant fleet. More than 10 GW of generating capacity is under occupation, including Zaporozhye. More than 40 percent of the transmission network is destroyed. Due to the destruction of the grid, we have a problem with generating and sending energy to Europe. We have constant power outages. From the end of October 2022 to the beginning of February 2023, nearly 12 million customers were without power every hour. The only reason for this are Russia’s attacks on the power grid, which affect everyone in Ukraine, every home or business.

What is the logic behind this?

The Russians cannot win on the battlefield. They lost the Kharkov region, part of Zaporozhye and the Kherson region. They launched attacks on civilian infrastructure to cause long-term blackouts in the winter, to freeze the water and heating systems, to deprive Ukrainians of critical services such as energy supply, water, mobile networks. Nothing can work without electricity. The goal was to put pressure on the Ukrainians to start negotiating peace. They used energy blackmail to try to force Ukraine to start negotiations. There have been numerous Kamikaze drones and missile attacks: fourteen waves of missile attacks and seventeen large-scale drone attacks. In total, more than 1,200 missiles and drones targeted the electricity system specifically. More than 200 of them hit the target.

What role does the cooperation with the West, especially Poland, play in handling these problems?

Three weeks after the invasion, on March 16, 2022, we managed to synchronize our electricity system with the European one. We have physically connected the electricity system of Ukraine with the European, continental grid. We’ve been working on this at Ukrenergo for five years. We wanted to complete this process by the end of 2022, but we managed to do it as part of an emergency synchronization because of the invasion. Ukraine started energy supplies to Poland immediately after the synchronization, which was especially important for the Lublin region due to the specific layout of the network. Poland and Ukraine have similar power systems. Both countries can do more to trade energy. We had the opportunity to send it to neighboring European countries from the summer of 2022. Of course, exports stopped after the first massive missile strike in October. We have been importing energy from Europe since January 2023. Ukraine uses power from Europe to stabilize the grid and partially compensate for the losses in the electricity system caused by Russian attacks. The connection with Europe allows for the technical flow of energy to support Ukraine during missile attacks on power plants.

What role does the supply of equipment from Europe play?

We are using European resources to stabilize our electricity grid when there is an attack. We use equipment from European countries, especially Poland, for further reconstruction. We are doing this at a record pace. I would like to thank our ENTSO-E partners and especially the Polish electricity grid operator PSE for the constant support and supplies of equipment that we receive. We reduced the repair time three or four times because the war forced us to work faster. We have more than 70 repair teams with 1,500 skilled workers operating around the clock. We are rebuilding the energy infrastructure faster than Russia can destroy it. We had no choice. There is no day off, no breaks, no delays. To survive the winter, we have replaced more equipment recently than in the last two or three years.

What is the current state of Ukraine’s electricity grid?

Ukraine has stabilized the grid and hasn’t experienced any major deficits since mid-February. Of course, the situation is quite tense, because the Russians will not stop shelling our grid. If we resist the new Russian attacks, it will be possible to restart commercial energy exchanges. Another power connection (with Poland – ed.) is to be launched this year to strengthen our cooperation. I believe this will be the impetus to make it even better. Poland could use the surplus energy from Ukraine, and we could use the Polish grid to import energy if needed. This cooperation would strengthen the energy security of Central and Eastern Europe if we joined forces to become the suppliers of this security.

What is the status of this project? It had been expected it would open by the end of 2022.

It is going well despite the massive attacks and bombings that have changed the schedule. I am convinced that it will be ready soon and we will have a better connection with Poland and the European Union.

Is there a threat of a blackout in 2023?

There is no real threat of a blackout at this stage. We’ve been able to accelerate the pace of system recovery. The new missile defense system we received at the end of 2022 also helps. We use equipment from Poland and other friendly countries. I am convinced that Ukraine will ensure the safety of the electricity system and will be prepared for the next winter, thanks to as many repairs as possible. We will try to restore the surplus energy in order to share it with our neighbors and renew our role as the supplier of Europe’s energy security. In this area, we can successfully cooperate with Poland. We have a great partnership with PSE. I hope to continue it in 2023.

Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik