Shining through the Dark: How Has Ukraine Experienced an Energy Crisis?


March 1, 2022. The UN Human Rights Council session is in progress. Suddenly, hundreds of diplomats, exchanging condemning glances, get off of their seats and hastily proceed to the hall’s exit. But it is not the end of the session; it’s a protest. The diplomats decided to leave the room when a pre-recorded video of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening speech started to play. The minister’s words contained another portion of thinly-substantiated, Putin-devised propaganda. For months, Russian politicians have exploited international forums as platforms for rolling out ill-conceived justifications of why it was crucial to initiate the war against Ukraine. This time, however, nobody listened.

If you are still wondering why the diplomats expressed such flagrant disrespect, just imagine that since the beginning of the war, more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers have been dying daily; nearly 74,000 residential buildings have been destroyed;[1] 2,532 educational institutions were damaged or destroyed;[2] and Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Russian officials intended to “liberate,” have been socially and economically reduced to “ashes of the dead land.[3] European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer’s estimations led him to the conclusion that it may take approximately 1.1 trilliondollars to rebuild and restore Ukraine after the war.[4]

The deceitful lenses through which Putin and his political “circle” project their “truthful” reality could not hide the true causes of the war, which were purely commercial. Among the multiple aims of the invasion, one was to pose the international community with an ultimatum, which did not work as expected. The aggressor state’s unrealistic expectations of adopting a Blitzkrieg strategy to capture the territory of an independent state in just a few weeks did not meet the reality. Struggling to bring Ukraine to the negotiating table, the Russian army began demolishing not only Ukrainian military objectives but also basic infrastructure essential for civilians’ living. Aiming to cause widespread damage to Ukrainian security, occupying forces have initiated a chain of attacks on the Ukrainian energy supply infrastructure. In view of this, the international community has faced the need to promptly consolidate its efforts to ensure the safety of the European “energy gates,” namely the Ukrainian energy system.

 “Hunger Games” for Ukrainian citizens

For decades, Ukraine has been a key European energy hub: its natural gas transmission system has the second-largest storage capacity in Europe.[5] Prior to the war, Ukraine was a key transit route for Russian natural gas to Europe, where it supplied around a third of gas needs.[6] Since the beginning of the war, consumption of energy in Ukraine has fallen by about 30 percent, while power generation has fallen by 40 percent.[7] At the same time, the relative cheapness of Ukrainian energy’s price and the long-awaited connection of the Ukrainian power grid to the ENTSO-E system made it possible for the country to fuel the state budget by exporting electricity to the EU.[8] Thus, since June 2022, the Ukrainian transmission system operator Ukrenergo has managed to earn nearly €67 million by exporting electricity to Europe via Romania and Slovakia.[9] Those revenues have been used by the Ukrainian government primarily to repair the damaged energy infrastructure as well as to restore ruined transport routes.

When the Russian Federation observes Ukraine opposing its attacks, it strikes again. On October 10th, Russian forces launched full-scale attacks on Ukrainian thermal generation facilities and electrical substations, which forced Ukraine to stop exporting electricity to the European Union.[10] In the words of Ukrainian Minister of Energy Herman Haluschenko, the Russian Federation has been “killing the very possibility of exporting electricity from Ukraine.” Europe was quick to react to the Russian manipulative steps, and on November 23, 2022, the Russian Federation was defined by the European Parliament as a state sponsor of terrorism.[11] After this happened, Russian forces launched a new round of massive attacks disabling all Ukrainian nuclear power plants and a significant number of thermal and hydro power plants.[12]

Practically, Russian actions resulted in Ukrainian civilians living without any light, warm water, or heating for up to 20 hours each day. The lack of electricity has impeded access to medical services, disrupted the educational and working processes, and weakened the functioning of Ukrainian businesses. Responding to the desperate need for heating, Ukrainian authorities have established special service points across the country (so-called “invincibility centers”), where people can warm up and get some food, medicine, internet connection, and charge their mobile devices.[13] Chair of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen very pointedly classified Russian attacks on energy infrastructure as “acts of pure terror” and “war crimes.”[14]

Is all fair in war?

Winter in Ukraine is well-known to be harsh and cold, with temperatures dropping up to negative 20 degrees Celsius or lower in some areas. This year’s interruption of the heating season has brought to the forefront the question of how Ukrainians will persevere through this year’s winter in the life-threatening conditions of energy-deprived homes in a warzone.

As nuclear power plants (NPPs) generate more than 55 percent of the Ukrainian electricity supply, they naturally appeared among the primary objectives of Russian attacks.[15] Being under a state of occupation since March 4th, Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) was disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid in August 2022, the first time since it started operations in 1985. The ZNPP is the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe, generating nearly 26 percent of all electricity produced by Ukrainian nuclear power plants annually. However, Russian forces negligently overlooked that the ZNPP should be uninterruptedly supplied with the minimum amount of electricity necessary to prevent its six nuclear reactors from being overheated. The failure of the Russians to sustain the optimal temperature inside the nuclear reactors might have potentially provoked a nuclear disaster. Further complicating the situation with the ZNPP was that Russian forces used the plant as a munitions warehouse, where explosives and other weapons were located directly next to the nuclear reactors.[16]

Such aggressive occupation tactics will lead Russians not to victory but rather to dramatic fiasco. This can be vividly illustrated by the story of the Russians’ escape from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP) in March 2022.[17] During their stay at the CNPP, Russians ignored the basic security measures, which led radiation levels at the CNPP to increase. Following the illegal integration of the Zaporizhzhia region into the Russian Federation, on October 5, 2022, the President of Russia signed a decree by which he transferred the facilities of Zaporizhzhia NPP to the ownership of the Russian Federation. The decree presupposed the creation of a joint-stock company “Operator of Zaporizhzhia NPP,” which will be empowered to manage the facilities of the ZNPP until January 1st, 2028.

In cases where Russia is unable to directly occupy a nuclear power plant, it focuses on attacks not on the plants themselves, but rather on the substations through which electricity is transferred from the plants to the energy system of Ukraine. Thus, even though NPPs may not have been directly damaged in all cases, the transmission of energy from plants to consumers proves hardly possible without properly operating substations.

One might hope that electricity previously produced by nuclear power plants may now be substituted by that of thermal power plants (TPPs).Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even if some Ukrainian TPPs have been left untouched by Russian attacks, they still function at significantly low rates, as the supply of coal to the majority of TPPs has been impeded.

From darkness to the light

For the stability of the power system in the future, Ukraine has joined forces with the international community to implement the following measures:

  1. The Ukrainian energy system was emergently synchronized with the Continental European Power System. In reaction to the unlawful Russian invasion, Ukrenergo decided to disconnect the Ukrainian power system from the networks of the Russian Federation and Belarus on December 24, 2022. In view of this, ENTSO-E synchronized the Ukrainian power system with the European one in an accelerated mode, and on 11 March 2022, the power systems of Ukraine and Moldova were fully integrated into ENTSO-E. This step will foster the unimpeded flow of electricity between the Ukrainian Power System and ENTSO-E, and potentially facilitate the full transition of Ukraine to renewable energy sources. Given that the European Union is moving towards green transition, Ukraine may potentially extend its green energy producing facilities to export more energy to the European countries after the war. According to pre-war estimates from the International Renewable Energy Agency, Ukraine has the capacity to install more than 320 GW of wind and 70 GW of solar power.[18]
  2. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send nuclear safety and security missions to three operating nuclear power plants in Ukraine, as well as to the country’s Chernobyl site. Following the request of Ukrainian authorities, since January 2023, the IAEA has been dispatching the teams of nuclear safety and security experts that “deliver nuclear safety and security equipment, produce impartial assessments of the situation, and provide technical expertise and advice” to the staff of the South Ukraine, Khmelnytskyi, and Rivne NPPs.[19] As of January 2023, teams of nuclear safety and security experts from the IAEA have been stationed at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and the Chernobyl site[20].
  3. Ukraine has obtained guarantees of financial assistance from major world institutions. On June 14, 2022,the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) made a commitment to lend up to €300 million to help Ukraine’s gas company Naftogaz compensate for the loss of natural gas production following the invasion of Ukraine.[21] Another example is a €2 million agreement concluded between the European Investment Bank and the United Nations Development Programme with the aim to assist Ukrainian cities in implementing a €300 million European Investment Bank energy efficiency framework loan.[22] On  January 4th, 2023, the European Commission and the Energy Community Secretariat signed a grant agreement, under which the Ukraine Energy Support Fund will receive a financial donation of €5 million and equipment to make emergency repairs to the electricity infrastructure damaged by Russian bombing.[23]

Despite receiving constant financial infusions from the major world economies, Ukraine should be the first one to care for itself. Russian attacks would not have had that devastating effect on the Ukrainian energy sector provided that energy infrastructure had been in a better condition prior to the war. Russian attacks have simply unveiled “soft spots” in the Ukrainian energy system, which Ukrainian people have ignored for decades. Since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union, it inherited an expanded and unique gas transportation system. Since that time, the gas transportation system has undergone no major reconstruction. Russian engineers can now predict with relative ease where Russian attacks should commence to inflict an effective harm on the energy system. The result speaks for itself: as of November 2022, the approximate direct damage sustained by Ukrainian energy systems equals 2.5 to 3 billion dollars.[24] It would take nearly 800 million dollars to fully renew its proper operation.[25] Figures could have been much smaller if Ukrainian infrastructure had been restored in due course and gradually within the last 20 years, but now is high time for a change. The reasonable use of financial tools provided to Ukraine by international institutions and sponsors may sharpen the economic and financial stance of Ukraine in the war as well as secure the justified conditions of living for its citizens.

Make no mistake: Ukraine will inevitably shine its way through the current darkness.


[1] BBC News Ukrainian Branch. “100 – 200 Ukrainian soldiers have been dying daily – Office of the President of Ukraine.” BBC News Ukrainian Branch, June 9, 2022.; Office of the President of Ukraine. Press release “Kirill Tymoshenko Participated in the Conference “Ukraine During the War. Economy. Security. Energy. Recovery Prospects” in Warsaw.” Office of the President of Ukraine, October 7, 2022.

[2] Shkarlet, Serhii. The official statement of Serhii Shkarlet, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, on the educational process in the liberated territories, needs and expenses for education in 2023. Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, September 19, 2022.

[3] Mykhailo Gema. “Constant fighting near the Lysychansk oil refinery: the enemy cannot break through the defense of the Armed Forces.” 24 channel, September 4, 2022.; Mett Merphi. “”Ashes of dead land”. The russian invasion of Donbas is intensifying.” BBC News Ukrainian Branch, May 23, 2022.

[4] Arons, Steven. “Ukraine Reconstruction May Cost $1.1 Trillion, EIB Head Says.” Bloomberg, June 21, 2022.

[5] The International Energy Agency. “Ukraine Energy Profile. Energy Security.” The International Energy Agency. Accessed on November 30, 2022.

[6] Voytyuk, Oksana.“The gas sector of Ukraine: past and future.” Accessed on December 2, 2022. DOI: 10.4467/20827695WSC.20.012.13340.

[7] The International Energy Agency. “Ukraine Real-Time Electricity Data Explorer.” The International Energy Agency. Accessed on November 30, 2022.

[8] ENTSO-E, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, is the association for the cooperation of the European transmission system operators (TSOs). It coordinates TSOs’ activity in the fields of transmission system operation, system development, market development, and research.

[9] Rzheutska, Lilia. “Zaporizhzhia Plant No Longer Connected to Ukraine Grid.” DW, July 11, 2022.

[10] The Kyiv Independent. “Energy Ministry: Ukraine Forced to Stop Exporting Electricity to Europe.” The Kyiv Independent, October 10, 2022.

[11] see European Parliament resolution of 23 November 2022 on recognising the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism (2022/2896(RSP)).

[12] BBC News Ukrainian Branch. “Due To Russia’s Attacks, Almost No TPPs And HPPs Were Left in Ukraine Untouchable.” BBC News Ukrainian Branch, November 22, 2022.

[13] Reuters. “Ukraine Setting Up ‘Invincibility Centres’ To Help Provide Heat And Water.” Reuters. Accessed on November 30, 2022.

[14] Ursula von der Leyen. The official statement of Ursula von der Leyen. Twitter, October 19, 2022.

[15] Prokip, Andrian. ‘Why the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Matters…for the Whole World.’ Wilson Center, September 19, 2022.

[16] The Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The official statement of the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Twitter, August 25, 2022.

[17] Henley, Jon. ‘UN Nuclear Watchdog to Head Mission to Chernobyl as Russians Withdraw From Site.’ Guardian, April 1, 2022.

[18] European Integration Portal. “Ukrainian Power System Is Fully Synchronised with The European Power Network ENTSO-E.” European Integration Portal, March 16, 2022.

DLF Attorneys- At- Law. “Synchronising The Energy Systems of Ukraine And The Eu.” DLF Attorneys- At- Law, October 25, 2022.

[19] “IAEA Support Teams Sent to Bolster Ukrainian Power Plants.” Nuclear Newswire, January 18, 2023.; Agreement Between Ukraine and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons dated March 18, 1998.International Atomic Energy Agency.

[20] IAEA. “IAEA Missions Established at all Nuclear Power Plants Across Ukraine.” IAEA, January 26, 2023.

[21] Bennett, Vanora. “EBRD Bolsters Ukraine’s Energy Security with Up To €300 Million For Naftogaz.” European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, June 14, 2022.

[22] United Nations Development Programme. “EIB and UNDP Expand Partnership to Help Ukraine Rebuild Sustainable And Energy-Efficient Public Buildings.” United Nations Development Programme, October 25, 2022.

[23] Energy Community. “European Commission contributes to Ukraine Energy Support Fund to help keep Ukraine’s power system running.” Energy Community, January 13, 2023.

[24] Denys Shmyhal. The official statement of Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine. Government Portal, November 11, 2022.

[25] Paziy, Volodymyr. “Is Ukraine at Risk of a Total Blackout and How Much Time is Needed for Recovery: Kharchenko – About the Main Problems in Energy. Interview.” Obozrevatel, November 20, 2022.