Complete Blackout: Crimea Struggles With Power Crisis

A state of emergency was declared in Crimea on November 22nd after pylons carrying electricity from Ukraine were blown up, leaving nearly two million people in an extensive blackout.

The explosions occurred on Friday and Sunday night, cutting off Crimea’s four main transmission lines from Ukraine and forcing the peninsula to rely on its own generators. Emergency supplies have been turned on for critical needs (such as in hospitals), rescue teams are on high alert, and 13 gas generators are currently operational.

“Crimea is completely cut off,” says Viktor Plakida, the director of Crimea Energy.

With large parts of the Kherson region plunged into darkness, Crimean authorities have managed to partially revive the cities of Yalta, Simferopol, and Saky using generators. Still, this provides less than half of the peninsula’s needs. Water supplies to high buildings have stopped, and cable and mobile Internet is down.

While the attack is pending further investigation, the Russian media has reported that the explosions were caused by Ukrainian nationalists, as a stark reminder of the region’s economic dependence on Ukraine even a year-and-a-half after its annexation. The identity of the attackers remains unknown.


Activists Clash

Crimea was annexed by Russia last year following the Ukrainian revolution, however, Ukrainian authorities continue to supply power to the region. Crimea continues to remain heavily dependent on mainland Ukraine to meet its energy and food needs, despite being under the control of Moscow.

The Crimean Tatars, an ethnic activist group that oppose Russian rule over the peninsula, held a protest in the Kherson region at the site of the broken power lines. The group has a historical friction towards Russia that dates back to the 1940s when its entire population was deported by dictator, Joseph Stalin.

Since late September, exiled Ukrainian activists, including the Crimean Tatars, have engaged in attempts to block the flow of goods from mainland Ukraine to Crimea at all main road crossings that lead to the interior. They insist upon a full economic and energy blockade.

But the nationalists have also made it their imperative to fight for more than economic and political reform; one of their aims is to call international attention to human rights abuses and discrimination by Russia, including murders and kidnappings of group members. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recently confirmed “numerous credible, consistent and compelling accounts of human-rights violations”, which often involve disappearances and acts of violence.

Since, members of Ukraine’s Right Sector have also joined the Tatar-led blockade, however, some fear that continued disruption will provoke a violent response from Moscow.

As for this incident, on Saturday, the pylons were a scene of violent clashes between activists from the Right Sector nationalist movement and the paramilitary police as they tried to block repair works. Most of the damage on site showcased the flag of the Crimean Tatars.

There are mixed reactions about the attack and what impact it will have on the existing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, particularly on the frontline of the ongoing and escalating war in Crimea’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The incident would likely strain relations between the government in Kiev and the country’s independent, and often well-armed, activist groups.

While no formal statement has been made by the Russian or Ukrainian government about what will be done further, the impasse to this situation lies in negotiation, not armed-conflict. Cutting off supplies of energy hit citizens where it really hurts – schools get shut down, homes are powerless, and everyday life is disrupted. The upcoming months will be difficult for western leaders of the region and others, who may have to intervene to bring an end to the civil conflict.

Latest posts by Anuja Kapoor (see all)