Ukraine Blames Russia For Literally Turning Off The Lights

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Ukraine is blaming Russian-backed separatists for causing coal shortages, setting the stage for widespread blackouts.

“Unauthorized persons” damaged a major railroad used to transport coal from the Donbass region, according to Interfax-Ukraine.

Much of Ukraine’s coal comes from the war-torn Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting against Ukraine since 2014. Coal for Ukraine’s power plants may be depleted within 45 days, according to the Russian state-controlled outlet Sputnik.

“The issue of the introduction of a state of emergency in the Ukrainian energy sector will be on the agenda of the energy staff meeting,” Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine’s prime minister, told reporters. “We cannot allow the drop in the strategic coal reserves.”

Out of the total 24 million tons of coal that Ukrainian thermal power plants use annually, nine million tons are anthracite coal produced only in Donbas, according to Ukranian news outlet UAWire. Ukraine could replace Donbass coal with imports, but doing so would be very expensive.

Russia has not specifically denied Ukraine’s claims, with its state-controlled media merely reporting on Groysman’s comments. However, Russian state media has threatened to use Ukraine’s dependence on coal as a weapon in the past. Russian-backed separatists have fought the Ukrainian government in the Donbass region since August 2014.

Russians are already suspected to have launched attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Cyber-attacks shut down part of Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 using malware that disconnected electrical substations from the main power grid.

Ukraine blamed Russian-backed hackers for the attack. It was the first known cyber-attack to take down an electric grid and one of relatively few attacks that damaged physical infrastructure. It left approximately 700,000 homes without power for several hours, mostly in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine.

Similar malware was used against Ukrainian media organizations during 2015 local elections.

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