Winter is on the horizon. Russia is attacking the Ukrainian energy sector again

The Russians have already begun preparing for and testing attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. The Ukrainians are relying on the experience they gained last winter to survive another harsh winter and protect their infrastructure.

Fire at the thermal power plant in Kyiv, which the Russians bombed. March 9, 2023, Photo DSNS of Ukraine

In Ukraine, the heating season usually starts in mid-October. It’s a hot end to summer, and the beginning of autumn promises to be similar. However, despite the warm weather, Russia has already begun launching missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure facilities.

On September 21, the Russians launched a missile attack targeting Ukraine. Ukrainian air defense reported that 36 out of the 59 cruise and ballistic missiles were successfully shot down. However, some missiles hit energy infrastructure facilities in the Rivne and Zhytomyr regions of the country’s West and Center. In addition, several individual attacks were carried out in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

This recent attack is the first of its kind since early spring when the Russians ceased their attacks on the energy sector. Throughout the spring and summer, they directed their efforts toward other targets. Since the grain agreement expired, Russia has been using missile and drone attacks to target port infrastructure near Odessa and Izmail.

Moscow aimed to hinder the loading and export of grain through the Black Sea. The Russian fleet did not resort to sinking ships carrying grain despite making threats. They didn’t need to, as the warnings and missile attacks on ports caused many shipowners and insurers to become hesitant towards taking risks. The docks were also targeted in the recent attacks. 19 Shaheed-136 drones, 12 Kalibr cruise missiles, and two supersonic Oniks were launched towards Odesa. Although the drones were successfully taken down, one Kalibr and both Oniks struck the grain warehouses in the port of Odesa and the sea station.

There have been attacks on ports to discourage the import of grain and other goods, ultimately destroying Ukraine’s marine infrastructure. Similar attacks have been carried out on the energy system during the winter. Russia is believed to continue with this strategy in the autumn and winter, shifting its focus from ports to energy networks, substations, and thermal power plants.

Reconnaissance by combat

On September 21, a significant attack on the energy sector caused power shortages for about 55,000 people. The Russians carried out the attack using a combination of missiles and attack drones. They used different types of missiles, such as the Iskander ballistic missiles, Ch-55/555/101 family cruise missiles, P-800 Oniks naval missiles, and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles modified to attack land targets. The attacks were recently conducted from Crimea in the Odesa region with Oniks and the Kharkiv region with S-300. It is also impossible that the Russians used the rare and modern Grom E-1 glide bomb in the Kupiansk area.

The attack was intricate and likely planned for a considerable period, similar to many previous ones. It could have been a swift reaction to the Ukrainian shelling of Crimea with British Storm Shadow missiles. These missiles were incredibly efficient, with a range that allowed them to target the command of the Black Sea Fleet, resulting in the death of its Commander, Admiral Viktor Sokolov.

In light of repeated attacks by Ukraine on Crimea, Moscow felt compelled to respond and clarify its stance on how it will react in the future. This week, air raid sirens and television messages warning of an air threat were heard for the first time in Crimean cities. It goes against Moscow’s usual approach of pretending that the conflict does not involve the Russians. As a result, the command may have to employ pre-existing plans for strike operations on Ukrainian infrastructure.

There may be another motive at play. Moscow could be trying to demonstrate that it will combat the Ukrainian energy industry on an equal footing. This sector is crucial for allowing Ukrainian society to function normally despite the ongoing conflict. Access to electricity and heat is essential for feeling secure. Despite experiencing some downtime due to Russian attacks, Ukraine was able to endure the previous winter. Recent data from the UN and World Bank, released in early April, reveals that Russia’s winter campaign against the energy sector in 2022-23 caused Ukraine a loss of 10 billion USD. The impact was severe, with up to 12 million people experiencing power and heat outages. Furthermore, Ukraine’s systems have been weakened due to the previous year’s attacks, which means this upcoming winter will likely be even more severe and expensive.

Winter is on the horizon

The Ukrainian energy sector has been preparing for winter for several months. They have gathered stocks of spare parts, and cities have acquired significant resources for generators. During the war’s first winter, the Ukrainians purchased generators of different powers on a massive scale. They bought practically everything available in Europe. Local authorities have also acquired large generators, transformers, and substations. Oil-powered generator containers were a common sight on the streets of Ukrainian cities last winter, but they will be a rare part of the picture this year.

– We have a large number of generators, and following the previous winter, we conducted an operation to conceal them. The details of their location and concealment are the most significant secrets of the city, explained Mykola Formaniuk, Deputy Mayor of Vinnytsia in charge of infrastructure. He also noted that the reason for this secrecy is the vulnerability of smaller objects, such as generators, to potential drone attacks.

Even though Vinnytsia is located far from Russian territories, there is still a possibility of drone threats in the area. The Russians have received additional shipments of Shaheed-136 from Iran and have started producing their domestic license. While the design is simple, it’s advantageous due to its low cost and ability to be used in large numbers, overwhelming the Ukrainian air defense. These drones will likely be used extensively in attacks on the energy sector, even deep within Ukraine. However, not all of them will successfully reach their intended targets.

It is concerning that Russia is launching combined attacks, which reveals that their army’s supplies are decreasing. The usual practice is repurposing S-300 anti-aircraft missiles or P-800 naval missiles in border areas for alternate purposes. Missile attacks from bombers occur less frequently, demonstrating the increasing issues with Russian aviation, including aircraft wear and tear, insufficient missile supplies, and equipment malfunctions. However, despite these challenges, Russia can carry out significant strike operations on Ukrainian infrastructure.

– It is essential to keep in mind that the Ukrainian power grids suffered severe damage during the previous winter. While most of the failures have been fixed, the ability of the network to sustain electricity supply has been significantly weakened, according to energy market expert Natalia Slobodian.

There is a possibility of Russia launching further attacks on infrastructure elements before the onset of winter.

– Since they want to check the response time and repair capacity of Ukrainian energy companies, the Russians may assume that these businesses will exhaust their spare parts supply before winter, says Slobodian.

The US government has recently announced on its embassy’s website in Kyiv that it will allocate USD 522 million to bolster the Ukrainian energy sector. The aid comes with the condition that transparent control measures must be in place for all spending, and the ultimate objective is to establish a progressive, competitive, and eco-friendly energy industry. Currently, these challenges are a common issue for economies in a peaceful state. However, Ukraine must focus on building a sustainable future rather than merely salvaging its infrastructure, which has been repeatedly damaged through bombing.

The energy sector is being attacked in an attempt to weaken Ukraine’s fighting spirit and make it seem like a failing state. Keeping homes lit and heated is critical as part of the battle against the invaders, alongside direct fighting on the front lines.

Michał Kacewicz/

Translated by PEV


The opinions and thoughts expressed in the text reflect only the author's views.