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EXCLUSIVE War in Ukraine Interview

Deputy Energy Minister: We Must Close the Skies

Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Farid Safarov has said that the skies over Ukraine must be closed to protect the electricity grid from further destruction from Russian missile strikes. Speaking in an

Dec. 6, 2022

Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Farid Safarov has said that the skies over Ukraine must be closed to protect the electricity grid from further destruction from Russian missile strikes. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Safarov said that substations have been targeted by the Russians for maximum impact since the start of October and that replacing such destroyed infrastructure is quite time-consuming. He also explained the main challenges facing the Ukrainian energy system and its work with international partners.

What are the urgent needs and challenges facing the Ukrainian energy system? Are  international partners helping Ukraine?

This war is not only a war on Ukraine but also a war on Ukraine’s energy system. We are facing massive destruction of our energy infrastructure, mainly on occupied territories. However, the massive shelling launched by Russia on Monday, Oct. 10, was the heaviest in history, and as a result our energy distribution and transmission infrastructure suffered.

We require a lot of equipment to be brought to Ukraine to repair power lines, the grid’s substations, and generation facilities. There is a huge problem with the supply of this equipment because it takes a lot of time to manufacture it.

The Energy Ministry has, since the beginning of the war, coordinated efforts with international partners to get the necessary equipment for emergency repairs.

We started with Energy Community Secretariat and the European Commission –  they helped us a lot to establish effective cooperation. We are working closely with all our partner ministries around the world, not only with the EU but also with Canada, U.S., and Australia to get supplies of equipment made in those countries. We also work with private companies, particularly Siemens, General Electric, and others, to get the necessary equipment.

Living in Kyiv, you might have noticed that even after massive damage to our infrastructure, we can repair and restore electricity supply to households.

Does Ukraine have similar standards for energy equipment with the EU for getting speedy supplies?

The architecture of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure was established in the 1960s, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

The grid standards used in Ukraine are common in post-Soviet Union countries. The EU has a different energy structure with standers that are not similar to Ukraine’s.

Our grid uses more powerful equipment for the electric distribution of energy because the primary energy source in Ukraine is nuclear power, which requires a powerful grid.

Nevertheless, we can still use the EU equipment. There are difficulties only with equipment for substations. The rest is the same.

Which countries are helping Ukraine the most? Is this assistance sufficient? 

Since the war began, we have received 166 deliveries of equipment, thousands of tons at a time.

We have received over 1,000 generators, hundreds of kilometers of cables and other equipment.

There are more than 20 countries that are constant partners of Ukraine, including the EU and the U.S., Great Britain and other countries.

In particular, Poland has already supplied more than 750 tonnes of various types of equipment. It’s incredible that small countries are helping and bringing us huge deliveries: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Germany, France, and Austria are also helping. Ukraine has got a lot of energy friends.

There are also private companies helping Ukraine.

For example, the operators of transmission systems in EU countries are helping their subsidiaries in Ukraine directly.

How long does it take to get supplies of this equipment? Does the ministry have needs that are not being met?

Other countries are, in the main, supplying us with equipment that they have in stock. Our ministry collects data on the needs of Ukrainian energy companies and submits them to partners. No-one waits for this equipment to be made because there are urgent needs to be covered now.

Unfortunately, during the last few months, we have had constant Russian missile attacks on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

It means that even if we possess some stocks to make repairs to the system, we will have to repair it once again after the next attack.

What risks do you foresee for the future of Ukraine’s energy system? What could be the next targets for Russian attacks?

They caused severe damage to the energy infrastructure. Russians use various scenarios, probing the system’s weak points and bottlenecks and attempting to target them.

We definitely need air defense systems that are the key priority.

We could receive hundreds of thousands of tons of all kinds of equipment.

Still, in the next day or hour we might be on the receiving end of a new rocket attack and, unfortunately, our infrastructure will be damaged.

First of all, we need to close the sky.

Why are the consequences of Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s energy system felt in other countries, like neighbouring Moldova? 

In the main it is Moldova, because our energy systems have been connected since Soviet times. It was part of one common grid with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Russia. There were plans to switch the Ukrainian energy system from Belarus and Russia on Feb. 24 and test our own system as an independent one.

We began that process at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. at night Russia began its war on Ukraine.

The Russians believed that by doing this, they would manage to bring down Ukraine’s energy system.

And in the course of the next 16 days, the Ukrainian energy team did an incredible job and synchronized the Ukrainian energy system with the European one in emergency mode.

That was a miracle because it was expected that it would take Ukraine one and a half years to do this.

Can Ukraine potentially import energy from EU countries in the event of  emergency? 

The second miracle that took place in wartime is that we managed to export electricity to the EU, as we have a lot of power generation facilities.

Unfortunately, the Russians managed to occupy the Zaporozhzhya nuclear power plant [in the first days of the war], which is the primary source of energy generation in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, we had accessible facilities for exporting energy to the EU.

Is Ukraine still exporting energy?

Not right now.

Since Oct. 10, when we faced critical damage to our energy infrastructure, the direct decree issued by the ministry was to halt exports because we needed energy to control our own system.

So, there has been no export at all to the EU since Oct. 11.

Unfortunately, the attacks we faced led to the situation that we must prepare to import the energy.

Yes, in emergencies we can import electricity from the EU.

How long would it take to repair energy facilities? 

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that we must build back better. We have to rebuild the system with new standards and technical requirements that our European colleagues use.

To do that, we must reconstruct the electric energy and gas supply infrastructure to those standards that apply in the EU.

That will take time. Nobody can say how long it will take us because we don’t know when the Russians will stop attacking our energy system.

We know Ukraine will win this war.

However, the question remains as to how long these Russian attacks will last.

The ministry will do its best not only to repair the energy system but rebuild it to EU energy standards so as to avoid problems with the incompatibility of equipment in the future.