Watch CBS News

"Everything is at stake": Inside Ukraine's fight to keep the power on

Ukraine’s power grid
“Everything is at stake”: Inside Ukraine’s fight to keep the power on | 60 Minutes 05:06

Russian military attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure nearly triggered a nationwide blackout multiple times and have damaged or destroyed as much as 50% of the country's power generating capacity, according to Volodymyr Kudrytskyi the CEO of Ukrenergo, Ukraine's national power company. 

Since October, Russia has launched attacks on Ukraine's energy grid. Iranian made Shahed drones often target equipment at substations, which convert high voltage energy and transport it to homes and businesses. Russia claims the energy grid is a military target. In November, the Pentagon called the deliberate targeting of civilians a war crime.  

"This infrastructure actually powers tens of millions of homes in this country," Kudrytskyi told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. "Without electricity, no other type of infrastructure can operate. You name it, like heating systems, water supply systems, internet, mobile connection. Imagine that, suddenly you have no means of civilization at all." 

Scott Pelly interviews Volodymyr Kudrytskyi on the streets on Ukraine.  Eric Kerchner/60 Minutes  

Kudrytskyi said Russian forces sometimes target the same substation, including the one Pelley and the 60 Minutes team visited. That substation was attacked three times.  

"These objects [were] mostly built during [the] Soviet era, so [the] Russians probably have old blueprints [and] design documents for these objects," Kudrytskyi told Pelley. "They know very well where these substations are located."

A damaged substation the 60 Minutes team visited while reporting in Ukraine.  Eric Kerchner/60 Minutes

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi told 60 Minutes that prior to the Russian invasion Ukraine began stockpiling electrical equipment and other needed repair materials. He said the ingenuity and speed of Ukraine's engineers and electricity workers has helped keep the lights on after many attacks. Ukraine has also been aided by equipment from abroad.

Russia has launched at least 14 massive attacks in the last 18 weeks on Ukraine's grid. More than 1,000 people have been working around the clock to restore electricity. Some have died on the job. The missile and drone attacks have damaged all of Ukraine's thermal and hydro plants. The country has been forced into rolling backouts to maintain the delicate balance between energy generation and consumption. The schedule has been roughly four hours off twice a day, although it often changes. 

"They [the Russians] are losing at the battlefield," Kudrytskyi said. "They try to compensate this defeat by attacking electric grid, causing [the] suffering of millions of people in Ukraine, making…normal life of Ukrainians impossible."

Normality for much of Ukraine dissipated last February when Russia began its assault. When it will return is an enduring curiosity backed by a fortified Ukrainian resolve. 

"Our military, our warriors…they are fighting for Ukraine with the enemy in the battlefield," Kudrytskyi said. "But we are here to prevent them from causing [a] major catastrophe in 21st century, which would lead, probably, to many, many [people] suffering and death. So, everything is at stake."

You can watch Scott Pelley's latest report from Ukraine below.

The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.