“The needs are very great”… Ukrainians face a winter without water and electricity
Cédric Mascaras’ face is almost unrecognizable when he agrees to open his cell phone camera in the middle of our interview. The 50-year-old man is still in the middle of Nikolaev, but the city is covered in darkness. Only the shopping center is illuminated in the distance. A French businessman on a humanitarian mission relies on the headlights of passing cars to see where he is stepping on the street. He ends by turning off his camera: his phone’s gigabytes and battery are precious.
“It’s dark here at 3:30 p.m.,” explains Cédric Mascaras. “Neither Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, nor Lviv have lighted streets in Ukraine.” Ukraine’s electricity grid is no longer able to provide public lighting everywhere. According to Volodymyr Kudritsky, managing director of Ukrenergo grid operator, Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 missiles and rockets into the grid over the course of several weeks. On November 18, more than 10 million Ukrainians were left without electricity after a series of strikes.
Learn to live without electricity
In early December, more than 500 municipalities were still in the dark despite repairs. But “even in the supplied cities there is load shedding,” notes Cédric Mascaras. These cuts are “never planned and we don’t know how long they will last.” Internet access and telephone network are also regularly reduced. In Kyiv, “we have about five to six hours of electricity a day,” says Alexandre Haserway 20 minutes. A motion designer adapted: “Sometimes I turn on the light before I go to bed. If the electricity comes back at night, it wakes me up and I can work. »
The young Ukrainian is not the only one who has changed his business style. “Many people take their computers to Zoom meetings at a coffee shop or bar,” provided by personal generators. Generators and auxiliary heaters are now available all over Ukraine. “He asked us to bring some back from France,” said Cédric Mascaras, who mostly transports food products by truck thanks to his partners in France. Leaving Montauban with a friend, he traveled through Ukrainian cities to distribute packages to local associations such as the Ukrainian Libre or the Red Cross.
“There will be famine in Ukraine this winter”
Completely voluntarily, the merchant goes through these connections, because “the needs are so great that if you open a truck in Izium, you no longer control anything,” explains someone who remembers “people fighting for a pack of cakes.” In Mykolaiv, in a food distribution line that was more than a kilometer long, “a man dropped his tray on the floor.” He ate his share of rice on the floor,” he recalls painfully. “There will be a shortage in Ukraine this winter,” warns the fiftieth.
Chaos reigns in cities close to the front or recently captured. “Odessa is completely blackout. “Mykolaiv has been living without running water since spring,” Alexander Haservey explains. Hospitals are equipped with generators, but “scheduled interventions may be canceled in the event of a critical situation,” he adds. Successive evacuations in Kherson did not empty the city. At the end of November, 15 civilians were killed in bombings, and a few days after our interview, Cedric Maskaras told us that he had “returned to Kyiv” after “a crazy day in Kherson under shelling and rockets.”
A village as a refuge
Far from the front line, Alexander Haservey knows that Ukrainians are “at least more than half lucky.” His old house is individually gassed. There is a “buvette” near his house where he can draw water, “but only if there is electricity”. That’s why he’s stockpiling water, especially for weather warning episodes like this Sunday. One of his friends “bought a small gas stove for cooking”, and Alexander “wears a hoodie and a shirt” and does not suffer much from the cold. By contrast, in large Soviet-era complexes in Kiev, “the power plant supplies the entire building” and two hours of electricity is not enough to turn the heat back on.
But if the weather improves in the capital after a very harsh episode of -10°C at the end of November, temperatures could soon be negative again. “If the energy crisis continues, we will go to the village for the winter,” announces the motion designer. Cédric Mascaras, who is on his fifth tour of Ukraine, explains that everyone has a fireplace or a wood-burning stove there. There, the turnstiles and marksmanship courses his friends offered Alexander for his birthday in November would have served him well.