Twin Ukraine Power Cable Blasts Leave Crimeans in the Dark

  • Power to region Russia annexed from Ukraine cut on Sunday
  • May take `few days' for supplies to be resumed, Ukraine says

Power lines serving almost 2 million residents of the Crimea peninsula were damaged by a pair of explosions, cutting electricity for the region annexed by Russia last year. 

Restoring service may take as long as four days, Yuri Kasich, deputy chief executive officer of Ukrainian state company Ukrenergo, said Sunday. Crimea declared a state of emergency after losing its electricity from Ukraine at 12:19 a.m. local time on Sunday, following an explosion on Friday and a second blast on Saturday.

Repairs were hindered by protests at the site of blasts. Police are investigating both explosions. “It was a mess at night when all the lights suddenly turned off,” Anastasia Kostyukova, 22, said by telephone from Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city.

Local authorities in Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014, managed to restore power for “socially significant” and “potentially hazardous” facilities using backup generators, Russia’s Emergency Ministry said on Sunday. More than 1.6 million people remained without electricity as of 5 p.m. Moscow time, the Energy Ministry said.

While streets in Sevastopol are not illuminated, homes do have power and service is being switched on and off for some residences, Kostyukova said.

’Armageddon’ Happened

Another Sevastopol citizen, journalist Olena Sokolan, 27, said she saw no signs of electricity for most of the day, until about 6 p.m. “Armageddon has happened in the city,” Sokolan said.

Ukraine’s Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said the nation has called in law enforcement officers to investigate those responsible for causing the damage. “There might be third-party interference,” he said by telephone. “I’m not an expert, but I suspect a blast.”

Crimea is using its own power resources that cover about a third of the region’s needs, according to local authorities and Russian Energy Ministry.

“There’s no panic, no massive food or water buying-up, but everyone stores candles because we understand that this can last for two weeks or even more,” Alexey Saratov, 20, a hairdresser in Yevpatoria, about 112 kilometers (70 miles) north of Sevastopol.

Two Blasts

An explosion on Friday damaged the four power lines feeding Crimea, knocking two off-line at the time. Another blast on Saturday interrupted the flow over the remaining pair of lines, Ukraine’s Kherson region, site of the cable, said on its website.

A repair crew was thwarted by people seeking an economic blockade of Crimea, Kasich said. Two police officers were attacked by protesters near the site, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. No suspects have been identified, the ministry’s spokesman Artem Shevchenko said.

The cables were probably damaged by antitank mines, Andriy Putilov, governor of Ukraine’s Kherson oblast, or region, said in a statement on Friday. He said a “peaceful” protest demanding an embargo for Crimea was in progress when the maintenance crews arrived.  

Ukrainian Supply

“People guilty of provocation using explosives will be punished,” Putilov said, demanding that rally participants let maintenance crews start repairs.

The blasts also halted power to Ukraine’s border districts in the Kherson region. Power there is being provided by backup systems, local authorities said in a statement on the regional administration’s website. As many as 40 percent of consumers in the Kherson and Mykolayiv regions are at risk of losing power, Interfax news agency reported, citing the Energy Ministry.

Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov declared Monday a day off for workers. The region has faced power interruptions several times since Russia’s annexation. The government in Moscow plans to begin delivering electricity from Russia’s Krasnodar region by January, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Saturday, according to Interfax.

“People are willing to endure,” Aksenov said on state television Rossiya 24 on Sunday. Local authorities set a plan of rolling blackouts amid a limited supply, while Internet and mobile connections are “mostly working,” he said. Central heating in flats will work only at nights given that temperatures are mild, at about 18 degrees Celsius (64F), RIA Novosti news service reported, citing Crimean authorities.

Russia remains an important partner for power supplies in Ukraine, which faces the threat of coal and electricity shortages since pro-Russian rebels seized its coal extraction districts in the East. While Ukraine stopped importing electricity from Russia this month, it still plans to import as much as 200,000 metric tons of coal from Russia by year-end. 

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