Saturday, December 13, 2014

Last week's electricity emergency in Ukraine

I'd like to spend a moment to talk about a national news story that had a big impact on our day to day lives here in our small village--the power outages in Ukraine. We had power outages at home every single day from Monday through Friday, and the one day that we went to Lviv, Yulia's appointment with the dentist was canceled because they had no electricity in that part of the city.

What happened was that a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhya was disconnected from the grid because one of its turbines malfunctioned. It is one of the largest plants in all of Europe, so it's understandable that it caused widespread problems in Ukraine. Thankfully, there was no chance of a radiation leak.

The problem was fixed on December 5th, though coal shortages at other power plants are still a nagging problem for Ukraine.

We've become accustomed to living with less since moving to our new home in the countryside, but these constant power outages were particularly problematic for us. First of all, Yulia and I have had electricity on our minds recently, as we've been rewiring a major chunk of our house, garage, and other outbuildings. On Monday morning the lights went out, but that was not really a problem because I had to switch off the power anyway to wire our bedroom, kitchen, and what will be our bathroom. The power was turned back on in the afternoon. However, after dark, just as I was hiding the wires back behind the wall in our corridor, the lights went out again. I was tired and dirty and there was a pile of dirt on the floor.

As I was cleaning up I noticed a fire raging in the fields behind our house. After looking closer, I could see a power line lit up by the red flames. Yulia and I took our fire extinguisher and cell phone and went to see what was happening. We thought that maybe the second outage was because of the fire. It was burning directly beneath the lines, but there was no damage that we could see. We reasoned that the dry grass caught fire after an irresponsible villager or farmer set their crop field on fire. The fire must have spread from there to the prairie grasses.

Later that evening, the lights came back on. We checked the internet to find out what  was going on. There were a couple mentions about possible power outages, but nothing that relayed the large scope of the problem originating in Zaporizhya, so we didn't think much of it (the articles I cite above were all published later in the week).

The next day the lights went out shortly after we woke up. Yulia and I went to the city for a dentist's appointment, but, as I mentioned, it was canceled because the lights were out there too.

On Wednesday the power went out yet again. I had a lesson with a new student on Skype in the evening and desperately didn't want to miss it so as not to turn off a new client. I work exclusively online now, so having power is essential for our income.

Yulia called the power company to find out what was going on. We were hoping they could give us a schedule of the now routine power outages. When she reached a representative and asked why the power was out and if there was any way to know when it would be turned off, they got disconnected.

When the lights came back on, we checked the internet and found out about the widespread electric grid problems and that the lights could be going off during peak hours (9-11am and 5-9pm).

Just after dark the lights went out again, and I had no choice but to hastily gather my things and drive the hour it takes to get to the city. I needed to be on Skype for my lesson at eight. There was no knowing when the power would come back on.

*     *     *

This problem was most hard on us because we work online and no lights means we can't work. We can deal with the inconvenience of the  lights being out, but the electricity powers much more than just our lights. It was hard on our household economy, and I wonder how hard it was on the national economy. Think of all the banks, internet based businesses, and communications that were affected. We at least know that Yulia's dentist also had problems (and I sure hope no one was in the middle of a painful procedure when the lights went out!).

I'm not writing this post to "complain" about what an inconvenience the power outages were to me. My problems pale in comparison to what Ukraine's energy ministry and our power company were dealing with. Rather, I bring up these problems exactly for the reason that we were not the only ones effected. The hit that the larger economy took because of these power outages is made up of these and many more stories.

Post Script:
The power outages are continuing this week, although for different reasons. The coal shortage in Ukraine is now to blame. The coal shortages were publicized ahead of time. When we got our electric bill, there was even a message on the back stating that power plants are producing 80 percent less energy because of this problem. The coal shortages are due to the disruption in mining and transportation of coal caused by the fighting taking place in Donbas. The news of war is nothing new to us at this point. Yulia and I understood long ago that this war will be negatively influencing our lives and are prepared for the consequences.

We sincerely hope for a swift end to the fighting. At times we think that Ukraine should cut its losses and give up on Crimea and Donbas, and at other times we think Ukraine should fight and retake the territories controlled (however sloppily) by Russian soldiers and pro-Russian terrorists. We are not war strategists and have no influence in the matter, so we won't talk at length about the matter here. We focus more on what is in our purview. We donate food and supplies to help the Ukrainian army, and we think it is our responsibility--and even duty--to be outspoken citizens. 


  1. Would a small generator be worth looking into?

  2. Maybe. We need electricity mainly for the internet, and if the lights are out in the neighboring village, then that means that the radio internet antenna (which is located there) has no power too. So it wouldn't help us on that front.