Ukraine braces for cold winter amid power supply uncertainty | Ukraine

Ukrainians are likely to experience the coldest winter in decades, its gas chief said, as thermostats on its Soviet-era centralized heating systems are expected to be turned on later and off.

Yurii Vitrenko, the head of state gas company Naftogaz, said indoor temperatures would be set at 17-18C, about four degrees cooler than normal, and he advised people to stock up on blankets and in warm clothes when the outside temperatures would fall and beyond the winter average of -10C.

The “heating season,” the period when central heating is on, will come later and end earlier, Vitrenko said.

The target hinges on whether Ukraine’s international allies can provide it with the funds to import 4 billion cubic meters of gas, as well as the absence of wildcards – such as Russia’s destruction of infrastructure gas company or the further reduction of its gas supplies to Europe.

“Without the [western] financial support, we will run out of gas and that will mean that we will have very high risks for the electrical system [going] down,” Vitrenko said. He described how Naftogaz supported some of Ukraine’s electricity companies with gas in March when coal supplies were interrupted by the war. “[Otherwise] there would have been no electricity,” he said.

“[Without the gas imports], there will be power outages in large parts of Ukraine,” Vitrenko said. “In terms of heating, if we don’t have that 2 billion cubic meters of gas, it will mean that some households won’t have enough heating…so it will be really too cold.”

Ukraine produces about 60% of the gas it needs on its territory and imports the rest from its European Union neighbors at market prices. The country stopped buying gas directly from Russia in 2014, although it still consumes much of the same Russian gas that passes through pipelines through Ukraine from EU suppliers.

This roundabout system was designed to prevent Russia from using gas as a tool to influence Ukraine. Gas deals between Russia and Ukraine were a long-standing source of grand corruption, with Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs allowing Russia to dominate the country’s internal affairs in exchange for cheap gas.

Ukraine needs around $10 billion to import gas. Vitrenko said he believed his allies understood the need but could not be sure Ukraine would get the funds because “it is very difficult to be confident during a war”.

The current calculation could change, however, if, for example, Russia targets one of Ukraine’s key gas infrastructure, power plants or gas production facilities. About 50% of Ukraine’s gas fields are in the Kharkiv region, six kilometers from the front lines. If it or Ukraine’s storage facilities were to be damaged, Ukraine would have to import more gas.

Another much talked about risk is that Russia decides to further reduce gas supplies to the EU, which would make the cost of gas even more expensive. Russia cut deliveries to the EU earlier this year, dramatically raising gas and electricity prices in some countries, including the UK.

“The world is experiencing the first truly global energy crisis in history,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, wrote last month. “The situation is particularly perilous in Europe, which is at the epicenter of the energy market turmoil.”

Ukraine’s state-owned gas company defaulted on creditors in July, saying the war had left many of its customers unable to pay their bills. Normally, Vitrenko said, Ukraine’s state gas company would buy gas from the EU and resell it for a profit. But given soaring prices and rampant unemployment caused by the war, Ukraine will have to subsidize energy prices this year.

Russia has been targeting critical energy infrastructure since February, including oil refineries and power plants. In case it targets gas infrastructure or gas production facilities, Ukraine is preparing emergency kits that could serve up to 200,000 people, including mobile boilers, mobile heating units and generators diesel.

“If a big city like Kyiv or Kharkiv [is cut off]sure, [the kits] won’t be enough, but in some small towns these emergency kits will make a difference,” Vitrenko said. “It all depends on the extent of the damage.

Rosemary C. Kearney