An army of electricians fights against Putin in the city of Kharkiv | Atalayar
The electric saw keeps throwing incandescent grains around the worker who is repairing a piping system. With the high-pitched sound of the saw piercing in his ears, another workman busy fitting the joints. Two others climb the stairs to the upper floor, and another, older, gives them instructions. They finish assembling the circuit that will start the new boilers at a thermal power plant that was bombed by Putin outside Kharkiv.
In two weeks, Russia has destroyed more than 30% of the infrastructure that provides electricity and heat to the whole country. And the attacks continue as these lines are written. Yet the response from the adamant Ukrainians was – once again – to stick out their chests and fight.
But the fight this time is not on the battlefield, with soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers; this time it’s a fight in the streetswith workers armed with miles of cables, electric saws and welding machines.
In cities like Kharkiv, they managed to gather a real army of workers and technicians who work from Monday to Monday. There is no rest. They repair everything that can be repaired against the clock, and at the same time they seek solutions to prevent another missile from sending them back to square one. And they find them.
Minus 20 degrees Celsius
Vyacheslav Valentinovich is the regional director of water supply and heating in Kharkiv. It also manages three of the city’s 20 thermal power stations. “Putin bombed two of the three power plants I manage,” he says, “but we have already fixed them. Here we are finalizing the installation of the new boilers and we will be able to start supplying heat in a few days,” he adds, showing Atalayar the interior of one of the thermal power plants.
Each of the boilers commissioned has a power of two megawatts. A total of 18 megawatts to heat 7,500 homes and 46 schools, universities, clinics and public centers. Most homes in the capital Kharkiv are powered by this type of district heating, and in a city that can reach minus 20 degrees Celsius in the middle of winterthese plants are vital for the survival of the population.
The Kremlin knows it too. And that’s why he directs his whole war machine against them. The windows of the factory in which we are are new. There are also several walls where you can see the freshly poured concrete. And there are still cracks in the ground to be filled. “The pump lifted the ground and burst the boilers, which is why we had to replace them,” says Valentinovich.
Currently, 84 people work at the plant. Twenty percent of the staff left the city when the war broke out. “It’s difficult to replace them, because young people don’t want to do these jobs,” says the director. The fact is that many of these young people are now at the front, fighting in Dombas or Kherson. They are in charge of anti-aircraft defense or hold positions along the Russian border.
Nevertheless, the repair work was carried out with surprising speed considering that we are in the middle of the warwith anti-aircraft sirens interrupting several times a day, and a curfew that prevents working at night.
saved by the bell
Large power stations also had to shut down at night, but increased the number of workers carrying out repair work after the massive attacks. In many cases, these teams started working without formalizing concession contracts and without being paid.. The bureaucracy would have delayed the work and Ukraine does not have time. Winter is just around the corner.
In Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, there were three power stations. Only one remains in good condition. Another was completely destroyed by Russia, and the other is partially bombed, although it continues to operate. We also go inside, and the surprise is great: where the main boiler was – the height of a nine-storey building – there is only a large chasm. A missile pulverized the 200 tons of metal that made it up. But the plant continues to supply electricity.
“We did not explode because the intelligence services warned us in time, and we were able to stop everything and empty the boilers,” he added. explains the plant’s technical director, Evgeny Kaurkin, as we walk around the site on the first try. An entire building had to be demolished, and now hundreds of people are working 200% to rebuild the rest.
Thirteen companies (up to forty men each) were added to the 160 factory staff to carry out the various repairs. “In Kharkiv, 103 objects important to the power grid were destroyed”, said Kaurkin. “Now, as we rebuild, we are thinking of alternatives to prevent the grid from being destroyed with each new attack.
Underground control systems
Control monitors are the nerve centers of the electrical network. They are usually located next to boilers or turbines. But in this factory they were doubled. While they are installing new panels in the boiler room, they have renovated the basement of the Soviet-era bunker and installed another control room there.
“We have wifi here, we have officially contracted the Starlink system and we have secured communications in the event of an attack”, said the technical director, showing us around the bunker. “In addition, we have another secondary emergency system in place which is hidden, also underground, in another part of the city, and which is impossible to destroy with a missile attack,” he adds. he.
This is not the only measure to avoid the dreaded blackout. “We also install mobile and autonomous boilers in different parts of the city”, Kaurkin reveals, as he shows us images of these boilers on his phone screen. Each is capable of supplying electricity to four or five farms. They are prefabricated and installation and connection are done in one day. They have already installed 17 and have 11 in reserve to respond to possible bombardments.
In addition, the World Bank finances the installation of a new turbine to repair the damage caused by the bombardment of this combined cycle power plantwhich produces electricity and heat for 30% of Kharkiv’s population.
All these efforts with 30% of Ukraine’s power structures destroyed, not enough to provide the usual electricity the country needs to function. To avoid overloading the system, President Zelensky called on the nation to reduce consumption as much as possible. And citizens seem to have gotten the message, as the Kharkiv power plant claims to be producing just over 50% of its capacity to meet new demand.
Last resort: evacuation
“We have prepared a protocol in the event of a massive outage, and we cannot restore the network for several days”, explains Sergey Magdysyuk, director of housing and communal services of the province of Kharkiv, “In this case, we will drain the power supply. “In this case, we will drain the water from all buildings to prevent it from freezing inside the pipes and burst. and we will insulate windows and surfaces to better retain heat.
“While this work is underway, residents would be moved to shelters with heating and electricity. We have purchased tents, stoves for people to cook, diesel generators to charge phones, and the idea is to create common places where people can survive for a while, but if the situation lasts for several days, Evacuation will be the only way out.” Magdysyuk concludes.
In the case of hospitals, they have all been equipped with sufficiently powerful generators, and have been assured of a water supply independent of the general network.. If the water were to be cut in these places, they could draw technical water to allow them to work, although it is not fit for human consumption. “But if the blackout is global, once again the only solution is to evacuate,” insists the region’s housing director.
More help from Europe
For its part, the European Union has pledged to send mobile shelters to Ukraine to serve as temporary winter shelters.. These are structures designed to be deployed quickly in places where natural disasters have struck. They are equipped with stand-alone beds and heating systems, and are valued at around 150 million euros.
In addition, increased humanitarian aid – food, medicine, clothing and hygiene products – is needed to enable people to live in these shelters. In order to deliver everything before winter, the EU has set up an emergency program to speed up the process. So far, some 70,000 tons of humanitarian aid from 31 countries have been delivered.
They have also already deployed 500 temporary shelters in the Rivne region, 550 in Buchansk and another 600 in the Kharkiv region.. Each can accommodate up to five people and is fully equipped with beds and heaters. They will also have temporary living pods including showers, toilets and common areas such as dining rooms. These shelters were part of the EU’s emergency stock in Sweden, but a massive purchase has now been ordered which also includes thousands of beds.
It’s hard to imagine what it will be like to survive the winter in these latitudes – Kharkiv is only 40 kilometers from cold Russia – without heating, and in many cases without a house, because 35% of the city’s buildings were bombed.
Millions of Ukrainians remain displaced in other provinces or refugees in other European countries, mainly women and children. But those who have stayed at home, especially the elderly, who are extremely reluctant to leave their homes in the latter part of their lives, are particularly vulnerable. And the cold will hit them hard.