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In Ukraine, the specter of a dark and cold winter: “Here, everyone is worried”

In Lviv, alcohol no longer flows freely in the Mad bar’s house where, behind an elegant facade typical of the architecture of this city located 80 kilometers from Poland, each floor offers a specialty drink. “We used to party until 4-5 a.m., customers would start with cocktails, then dance and end with breakfast,” manager Nazar Byshev recalls wistfully on the crowded rooftop terrace. furniture in the establishment after dark. The place offers an unobstructed view of the city… completely plunged into darkness. This same city whose churches and historical baroque buildings, classified by Unesco as world heritage, attracted almost 2 million tourists a year before the war.

Since October 10, Russia has been carrying out almost daily attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure. Fifteen missiles fell on Lviv – where the previous strikes dated back to May – eight of which damaged the electrical system. Since then, the town hall has turned off public lighting to save power, and businesses have also turned on the switch. “They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system,” reacted President Volodymyr Zelensky in an address to the nation in the selfie mode he is used to.

In two weeks, the Russian army damaged nearly 40% of the electrical system, according to the Ukrainian Parliament. Power cuts are frequent, even far from combat zones. “Everyone is worried of course: between the coming winter and cold, and empty wallets …”, testifies Nazar, whose clientele has dropped by half in recent weeks.

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Part of the population is preparing to camp at home

The day we meet him in this month of October, the sirens howled for three hours, during which the Mad bar’s house remained closed. No missile exploded that day in Lviv, but the city lives with fear in its stomach and throbbing pain. “We lost two acquaintances today, including a friend of one of our employees who died at home in kyiv,” breathes Nazar. Viktoria, a sommelier, several months pregnant was killed with her husband by the explosion of a kamikaze drone in the capital while she was sleeping at home. Dozens of people have died since the start of this new strike campaign.

Moscow relies mainly on Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drones, which ensure destruction at low cost: 25,000 euros each. Almost every morning since October 10, dozens of them have been launched from neighboring Belarus towards electricity infrastructure. On October 22, nearly 1.5 million homes were without electricity for several hours throughout the country. To the west, the entire city of Khmelnytskyi, 275,000 inhabitants, had no power. Many homes without gas have no means of cooking.

The authorities warned in the summer that the population had to prepare for a difficult winter. Almost no heating, gas or electricity near the front line, recurring cuts all over the country. On October 25, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged the 7.5 million Ukrainians currently abroad not to return home until spring. The situation is even more difficult in recaptured areas or near the front line, where NGOs are now distributing generators and survival blankets.

To cope with the cuts that even affect the rear today, part of the population is preparing to camp at home. It would take more to scare the Ukrainians, who were pounding the pavement in 2014 during the Maidan revolution by -20° C. Tutorials on the media are multiplying: “How to bake bread in a makeshift oven at help of candles”, “Which sleeping bags are best suited for home use – advice from a mountain guide”, “Four day shopping without electricity and gas”.

“Winter will be hard”

In Lviv, Natalka Danyltchenko-Rojno was already equipped when the first strike deprived part of the city, including her apartment, of electricity and telephone network for a day on October 10. And for good reason, the 27-year-old works in a store specializing in hiking. Before the war, the little shop where she welcomed us supplied the climbers and skiers who were leaving for the nearby Carpathians. After February 24, it was mainly soldiers who came to buy equipment, survival rations or portable showers. But, since October 10, civilians are now parading in Natalka’s business. “Half of the stoves left on the first day – we opened the store when we had no electricity – the other half left in the following three days”, says the young woman.

Most of the customers are locals who have never hiked in their lives and are preparing to camp at home, with freeze-dried rations, stoves and gas cylinders. “However, since the summer the authorities have been warning us that the winter will be hard, but only a small minority of people have anticipated. And now they are rushing in droves…”, notes the young woman.

Both military experts and authorities had predicted that, faced with defeats on the battlefield, Moscow would resort to all means to destabilize the country and sow panic among the population. Starting by targeting the sources of electricity, on which part of the telephone network depends, as well as the thermal power stations. Before the war, Ukraine covered two-thirds of its energy needs through domestic production, in particular thanks to its four nuclear power stations. But that of Zaporizhia, the largest in Europe, is occupied by the Russians and has not produced electricity since September. Many thermal power stations are also installed on the other side of the front line.

“The Russians are fighting with us, the civilians”

If until now the fall in economic activity could compensate for the reduction in supply, the new attacks from Moscow are now putting pressure on an already fragile energy system. Kyiv, which has been reselling some of its electricity abroad since June due to falling demand, halted exports on October 11. To cope, Ukraine could in theory buy electricity from the European Union, except that the Twenty-Seven are already in the grip of a shortage due to energy blackmail from Moscow.

To preserve the system, and so that all Ukrainians have a little electricity, the suppliers resort to controlled cuts, organized in a rotating way between the agglomerations and the districts. Authorities are also calling for reduced consumption during peaks. “By switching off energy-intensive electrical appliances, we ensure that you, your neighbor, that everyone in Ukraine has light. By consuming responsibly, you are helping energy engineers to maintain the #EnergyFront”, thus tweeted Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Some Internet users take up this hashtag, share their photos of candlelight dinners or their tips on the best time to run the dishwasher. “The Russians can’t fight with the military, so they fight with us civilians, it’s a way of trying to demoralize us, sighs Natalka, But it’s misunderstanding the mentality of the Ukrainians, these attacks will only have the opposite effect.”


The chronicle of Christophe Donner

The work of Giuseppe Penone, "Rovesciare i propri occhi - progetto" [Renverser ses yeux - projet]gives its name to the Parisian exhibition devoted to Arte Povera.By Christophe Donner


The leader of Nupes and LFI, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on September 10, 2022 in Brétigny-sur-Orge, near Paris.Jean-Francois Cope

The chronicle of Cécile Maisonneuve

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on February 8, 2022 in Berlin.Cécile Maisonneuve is the founder of DECYSIVE and advisor to the Energy Climate Center of Ifri

Robin Rivaton’s Chronicle

US President Joe Biden in Washington on October 5, 2022Robin Rivaton

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