Russian shelling threatens Ukrainian power grid

In addition to ammunition shortages, there are problems of exhaustion on the front line and a lack of air defence systems to protect critical infrastructure

Infraestructura ucraniana bombardeada - <a href="">Depositphotos</a>
Ukrainian infrastructure shelled - Depositphotos

Russia continues its bombardment of Ukrainian electrical installations. Journalist and correspondent María Senovilla analysed the situation on Ukrainian territory for the microphones of Onda Madrid's programme "De cara al mundo" to offer the most important key points.


Russian shelling continues to destroy Ukrainian power stations. In the last few hours you have been in the area, what is the extent of the attacks? 

I was there just before that terrible shelling took place that pulverised the largest power station in Kiev, which supplied electricity to three million homes. And a few hours earlier I was at another power station, also one of the most important, in the south of the country. It was tremendous to see how the workers worked amidst the continuous anti-aircraft sirens. Before the attacks, it was already known that both drones and bombers had taken off, like the missiles they launched. Every minute the air raid sirens were going off and we had to run to the bunker. 

There were staff in critical positions who couldn't leave their place of work because it would bring the plant to a standstill. They told me that it was very complicated, that it was a daily anguish to have to work like that, to run every time there was a siren, to run back because the work piled up. And the work in a power station doesn't stop 24 hours a day. I saw all those Ukrainian workers, energy workers, exhausted, at their limit.

I still don't know how we still have electricity with more than 55% of the total Ukrainian electricity infrastructure completely destroyed by Russian shelling. In this case, the one that destroyed the Kiev power plant was an attack that was perpetrated with 40 missiles and 40 drones fired at the same time, so there is no anti-aircraft defence that can stop that. In the city of Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine, critical infrastructure was also affected: Kharkov power plant number 3. 

Hotel destruido durante un ataque con misiles rusos en Járkov - REUTERS/SOFIA GATILOVA
Hotel destroyed during Russian missile attack in Kharkov - REUTERS/SOFIA GATILOVA

I was doing a report there in 2022 and 10 missiles were fired at that particular power plant, so if it was already bombed when I was there in the autumn of 2022, imagine the situation now with another 10 missiles, what has to be left standing from that power plant and the impossibility of rebuilding everything as they continue to bomb it.... 

The situation right now in the energy sector in Ukraine is critical, it is at the limit and in a short time we will start with these organised, rather regulated power cuts, as in the autumn of 2022, when the first wave of attacks against the energy infrastructure began, in which the power was cut for several hours a day, sometimes 6 hours a day, sometimes 12 hours a day, so that the electricity system would not be stressed and so that Ukrainian households could be supplied for a certain number of hours a day. 

Remains of vehicles and buildings in the city of Kharkov after Russian bombardment - PHOTO/ARCHIVO

Maria, another direct consequence of these bombings of Ukrainian power plants is that the coal mines have reduced their production because there are fewer and fewer plants to burn coal. You have been to one of these mines in the Dnipro region, what did they tell you? 

That's right, I was there before going to the power plant, I wanted to follow the whole process of how energy is generated in Ukraine and how it is being affected by the very intense Russian bombardment that we have been receiving for several weeks now. In the mine, I had the opportunity to go down to one of the shafts that were 260 metres underground to see how the personnel were working, and they told me that in the warehouses, in the deposits where the coal was brought up, which were normally empty because the trains kept coming to pick it up and circulate, they were now at almost 50% capacity because there were fewer and fewer thermoelectric plants to send the coal that was being burned to generate energy. 

It's not just that a minister tells you that half of the electricity infrastructure has been bombed, it's that you look at the coal warehouses and you see that in fact half of the product that should be burning is stored there because there is nowhere to burn it. These are not mere political representations or a way of alarming Western partners to get them to get their act together and send those much-needed arms aid packages to contain the attacks. 


It is the wear and tear of a war that sometimes does not make the headlines on TV or in the newspapers, but which really wears and wears a lot, not only on the combatants' side, but also on the civilian population. Zelensky keeps asking the allies, the situation is very complicated and, above all, anti-aircraft systems and anti-aircraft defence are needed. 

That's right. They have changed the mantra, if two months ago they were repeating over and over again that they were out of ammunition on the front line, now the priorities have changed and what they are asking for are more anti-aircraft defence systems and more surface-to-air missiles to be able to stop some of these massive attacks that, as we have explained, when you launch a missile attack on the front line, you have to be able to stop it, As we have explained, when 40 drones and 40 missiles are launched at the same time, it is almost impossible to stop them all, but when the anti-aircraft defences had more anti-aircraft defences, between 80 and 90% of these attacks were stopped and the consequences were much less than what we are seeing now. 

It should be remembered that Ukraine has lost part of these Patriot systems, which are the most advanced surface-to-air missiles they have for anti-aircraft defence. Of the five that were sent in 2023, only two or three may be left - no one has confirmed the number - but there are already images of the destruction of two and possibly a third that were lost in March when these Patriot systems were moved to the front line in order to shoot down the fighter-bombers from which the Russians are currently launching the guided aerial bombs that are causing so much damage.  

It seems that one of the systems, that third system, will be lost during the month of March, which means that right now most of the cities are completely unprotected because the rest of the anti-aircraft systems they have, such as the Airis and some others, do not have the efficiency, effectiveness and range that the Patriots have, so right now they are desperately asking for more Patriots to be sent to them.

PHOTO/AP - Sistema de defensa de misiles Patriot de EEUU
US Patriot missile defence system - PHOTO/AP

Let's hope that whoever has to listen to all of this listens to them now. We were talking last week about the mobilisation law, what repercussions has it had in the last few days since it was passed? 

It was passed yesterday and it has come as a bit of a shock, because the star measure of this mobilisation law to get more young people to enlist voluntarily was when you signed a contract for 36 months and after 36 months, after 3 years of service in the army, you could demobilise and return to civilian life and, furthermore, it was retroactive for veterans who had enlisted in the near future with perhaps one year of service. 

That point was removed from the law just one day before it was passed, and it has come as a bit of a shock, we insist. The measure was already known to be very unpopular, in fact, there are now many voices saying that it was the reason why former army commander Zaludny was made to resign from his post. 

Patriot defence systems in operation - PHOTO/ARCHIVO

General Sirsky, the new man in charge, the new commander-in-chief of the army, has lowered Zaludny's demands a little bit. He is not asking for 500,000 men. Sirsky says that 330,000-350,000 men would be enough to rotate those who are, above all, on the front line, who are the most tired and urgently need a break. But it will be very difficult to get them to enlist voluntarily after removing the three-year contract point. What they have put in place as a new measure to attract new recruits is an increase in already good salaries and a supplement for those fighting on the front line. 

A frontline soldier in Ukraine is earning just over 3,000 euros between basic salary and allowances. This needs to be put in context. In Ukraine the minimum wage is 170 euros per month and the average salary is around 400 euros per month, so a salary of over 3,000 euros, even if it is in military uniform, is quite attractive. 

PHOTO/MARÍA SENOVILLA - Grafiti con el rostro del general Valeri Zaluzhny, sobre un monolito conmemorativo del final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, en Chasiv Yar (4)
Graffiti with the face of General Valeri Zaluzhny on a monolith commemorating the end of World War II in Chasiv Yar - PHOTO/MARÍA SENOVILLA

The risks, María, I don't know if they are worth the 3,000 euros 

As I said, with the new allowance it is going to be more and there are many young people who have been unable to work for two years, young and not so young, because the war has taken 35% of the jobs in Ukraine. 

My point is that in this situation the wear and tear after two years is obvious, but if you defend your country, maybe money is not the most important thing, or yes, or we are talking about the fact that this wear and tear has already led Ukrainians to think more about their pockets than about their territorial integrity, their sovereignty. 

Men between 18 and 60 cannot legally leave the country, so if you have to stay here and you don't have a job, then they try to sell the attraction of joining the army. You also have to consider that all those who enlist are not going to fight, there is a lot of logistics behind it, around 70% of those who are mobilised out of the million troops that the army has mobilised are not on the bombing front, they are doing other tasks. 

They are trying to dress it up as an attractive job offer to join the army, in addition, of course, to the patriotism I was talking about and the importance of defending the country. But it all adds up and after two years in which many people have had their businesses destroyed and have no short-term prospect of getting another job, wearing a military uniform is quite an interesting job opportunity at the moment in Ukraine. 

Artilleros antiaéreos ucranianos durante la guerra con Rusia - AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV
Ukrainian anti-aircraft artillery during the war with Russia - AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV

There have always been fighters who have enlisted because they live in such misery that it is the only way to get out of the hole, so this is nothing new, Maria, when you are with the fighters, does this subject come up or do the fighters you meet on the different fronts in Kramatorsk or in Kharkov or anywhere else? Do they talk about this subject or do they prefer not to comment on it? 

The salary issue is present in the positive sense, because they see themselves as professional soldiers who get paid for doing their job, which of course has that patriotic component of defending their country. But if you go, for example, to the ranks of the International Legion, which is mainly made up of Colombian, Brazilian and European soldiers, it is clear that they have come to fight for a good salary. It's not just the Russians who have recruited Cubans, it's that a Colombian soldier I recently met who is going to Kharkov in a few days was telling me that in Thermopil, which is the city where the recruitment centre for the International Legion is located, more Spanish than Ukrainian is spoken right now, to give you an idea. 

Militares ucranianos - PHOTO/AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV

Maria, there's a question that I think is very interesting, the coming winter, people are already thinking, well, there's still summer, but then winter seems far away, but it's coming very quickly. 

And we may face a new exodus of Ukrainian refugees. A few weeks ago I think I remember it was Medvedev, the former Russian prime minister, who said that if they couldn't take Kharkov, not by hook or by crook, but by cannon fire, but if they couldn't take it, they were going to make the city uninhabitable. They were going to force the million or so people in the city to leave, he said, by train, on foot or however they had to, because they couldn't live in the city and what they were doing now, destroying the power stations that produced the energy, of course. 

El presidente de Ucrania, Volodymyr Zelensky, en Suiza 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Switzerland - ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE / POOL / AFP

Maria, the Zelensky government insists, has insisted from the very first moment that the fight in Ukraine is not only for Ukraine but for freedom and democracy in Europe, and perhaps that message should always be kept in mind, for example, when David Cameron dines with Donald Trump in the United States trying to get him to lift the veto in the US Congress on the 50 billion dollars in aid and Trump replies that no, what has to happen is that Crimea and the Donbas for Putin, that as it falls there in Kramatorsk, in Ukraine in the area where you are. 

One of the headline stories in the local press was that Trump has said that on his pre-election tour he does not plan to visit Ukraine, that is, not even to build bridges or to see how things are going, which says a lot. 

Indeed, Ukraine has been saying from day one that Putin has not invaded its country, Putin has invaded Europe and in fact there is a book called "The Gates of Europe", in which he explains how Ukraine is effectively this bridge between these two worlds, a bridge that right now wants to look more to the West and for which they are saying that the fight is going throughout the West. 

They are still clear about that, they are still saying that they are fighting for the whole of Europe and that the news that has come out recently about Russian interference in countries such as Germany, such as France. It has also been proven that they had something to do with the Catalan process, and this shows that, even if it's not with cannon fire, even if it's not with tanks, Russia is already waging a war with Europe.