The defense of the electricity network, the other Ukrainian front
“Do I really look like a hero? », sighs Yuri (he requested anonymity), wondering if the compliments he has been receiving for a few months are not a bit exaggerated. With his plumpness, his heavy steps and his cap pulled down on his head, he never risked his life on the front. He never dreamed of becoming a war hero… Until war caught up with him on October 10, 2022, when the Russians started attacking the Ukrainian power grid.
The 50-year-old engineer is illustrated on this other front opened in the fall, that of the defense of civil infrastructures. He manages a ” substation “Or “source station”, in central Ukraine (the exact location cannot be specified for security reasons), which transforms the high voltage current coming from power stations into low voltage current distributed in homes and businesses. This giant electricity hub, which covers around 10 hectares and supplies nearly 600,000 homes, has already been attacked twice. The place, placed under high security, is now protected by armed men. Yuri and his team defend the nation by protecting the station.
“Watch out for shrapnel”, warns the engineer while walking in this month of January under a spider’s web of cables, where some 330,000 volts pass in a slight hum. His job became overnight one of the most exposed of the war. “The main change is that every morning, we go to work thinking that a missile could fall on us”he acknowledges.
Never, in his life as head of source station, has he received so many compliments and attracted so much curiosity. His neighbors take the opportunity to ask him if there will be outages during the day, how long they will be, a little as if he had become the “Mr. Weather” of electricity. Yuri says he needs this comfort because “it is sometimes discouraging to rebuild what may be destroyed in a few days, or a few weeks”.
With their open entrails, these spring stations are much easier to damage than thermal power plants entrenched like fortresses behind thick walls. All of them have been attacked at least once by a missile or a kamikaze drone.
“The Russians don’t have enough weapons to wipe out millions of Ukrainians, so they’re attacking the power grid which is key infrastructure, says Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the young president of Ukrenergo, the public company that manages the country’s electricity transmission network. Without electricity, you have no water, no heating and no modern civilization. »
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