KIEV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) – Over the noise of a chainsaw chopping trees, Oleh Braharnik recalls how his team set out a week ago to repair power lines downed by Russian missiles in Kiev and provide electricity for his beleaguered fellow Ukrainians. went into action to do so.
Brahnik, a foreman at an electrical company, knows what threatens him: Like many in Ukraine, his family deals with daily blackouts caused by Russian attacks.
“We also sit in the dark,” he said, admitting that his house has electricity only about half the day.
In recent months, Russia has launched missiles into Ukrainian soil to try to destroy power grid equipment and facilities that keep lights, space heaters running and computers running. It is part of Moscow’s strategy to cripple the country’s infrastructure and bring Ukraine into subjugation this winter.
Braharnyk’s team is one of many from the DTEK electricity company, which has been speeding into Kiev, sometimes under artillery and rocket fire, to keep the city running. His colleagues in other parts of Ukraine do the same.
From President Volodymyr Zelensky down, Ukrainian leaders have warned that gas systems, pipelines and power stations have become the new battle front as the 10-month anniversary of the invasion nears.
Nearly half of Ukraine’s power supply network was damaged following widespread attacks on 23 November, when DTEK announced that “the power system has failed.”
During that cannonade, six of the company’s thermal power plants were shut down and 70% of the Ukrainian capital’s residents were left without electricity. DTEK spokeswoman Antonina Antosha reported that the plants were back in operation within 24 hours, although the blackout affected some 30% of Kiev’s residents that day, reducing to around 20% at night.
DTEK, which works closely with Ukrainian energy company NEC Ukrenergo, has reported that Russian forces have attacked its facilities 17 times since October, including twice on Monday. The company reported the deaths of more than 106 employees, most of them members of the military, since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, but said 14 died on duty or in the line of duty.
DTEK said three employees of the Ukrainian energy company were killed and 24 injured in the past week.
On Thursday, Braharnyk’s team had little more to worry about than freezing temperatures and drifting snow as they cut branches near overhead power lines that provide power to homes and businesses along much of the Dnieper River’s left bank. , which crosses the capital.
This does not diminish his constant vigilance. When missiles began to fall in mid-afternoon on 23 November, teams arrived at an undisclosed emergency site, surveyed the damage, and quickly determined that repairs were needed within hours. Another brigade was called in to carry out the repair work.
“Three or four cables were severed” and several hours of work were needed to install new ones, Brahrniak recalled.
Teams cannot rush to reach the venue. In theory, though not always in practice, mine clearance experts are expected to arrive first and ensure that there is no danger of unexploded ordnance. Then, cleanup crews—when necessary—remove debris and pieces of broken cables and destruction from the blasts so trucks and heavy machinery can pass through to make repairs.
In light of the new Russian strategy, “when we hear that a Russian attack is coming, we already know they will target power sources or power lines,” Braharnik warned.
DTEK teams now live closer to their operating bases, ready to load and deploy at a moment’s notice. The risks are still real.
“Even now, we’re not really sure because no one knows when we deploy to fix a site they’ll be dealing with a double whammy that just got hit,” he acknowledged.
Psychological stress is also heavy.
“The hardest thing is … hearing explosions and attacks, not knowing what it really is: it could be missiles headed our way or SWAT teams clearing fields so other brigades can pass through ,” Braharnik said.
For utility workers, it’s about getting the job done, “no matter what’s happening around us,” he said. “We’re here to fix it.”