Ukraine’s massive blackouts: look inside

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Russia’s massive shelling of Ukraine’s energy sector has caused the largest blackouts in Ukraine’s history. After every Russian attack, emergency power outages immediately occur throughout the territory, plunging the state into darkness.

Even if the system can partially be restored, power cuts are introduced for hours or even days, because there is a large shortage of energy resources. In some regions, the electricity deficit could exceed 50-70%. Such global blackouts could not help but affect the Ukrainians’ routine, as people are forced to live without light in sub-zero temperatures.
Thus, how have massive blackouts affected Ukrainian society?

Less light – more deaths

Power outages affect not only your home or work life but also the level of your security on the street. The lack of lighting in cities is driving for worsening the safety situation as many busy roads and important intersections were left without traffic lights and street lighting. According to Andriy Molokoedov, the spokesman of the Patrol Police in Kyiv, since October 10 (when the power cuts were first introduced), the number of traffic accidents has increased by 55%. He adds that more pedestrians became involved in accidents, and the death rate of those who got into accidents increased sixfold.

In order to reduce the appalling growth of accidents and of pedestrians dying from them, the state authorities launched an information campaign on how a pedestrian should look so he/she could visible to the driver: it is better to wear light-colored clothes and reflective elements.

The Patrol Police of Ukraine also instructs drivers to turn on their side lights, dipped beam headlights, or fog lights in advance. In only 30% of cases, a driver can see a pedestrian in the dark. If the clothes are with reflectors, the indicator reaches 80%.

Lack of light increases the mortality rate not only on the road. According to the State Service of Ukraine for Emergency Situations, fires now break out more frequently due to the use of generators, gas burners, etc. Over 130 fires occur every day, mainly in the residential sector, and 12 people die on average.

On the road: a person with VS without reflective elements

Updated shopping list

The Ukrainian market also experienced changes. This year’s “Black Friday” was literally black for Ukrainians as they had to do shopping in total darkness. With the biggest sale of the year coinciding with a partial blackout across the country, most customers opted for items that can come in handy during water and heat outages.

For example, according to (one of the largest online shopping sites in Ukraine), the top 10 most popular products on Black Friday included:

  • gas equipment;
  • tourist tools (including flashlights and thermal goods);
  • computer accessories (power banks, portable charging stations, etc.);
  • battery powered lamps;
  • voltage converters;
  • festive lighting.

This fall the demand for heaters increased by 5-10 times. Network extension cords, portable radios, and 4G modems on batteries are also purchased more often.

It is especially difficult to live through such circumstances for parents of newborns as they are looking for a way to keep their child warm so the demand for thermal footmuffs envelopes is increasing. Customers began to buy more e-books and Nintendo game consoles on batteries to entertain themselves or their children. Battery-powered Christmas trees, which earlier were offered as a simple decoration, became a popular product due to their ability to light up the premises without using a lot of energy.

Falling in internet traffic

Russia frequently targets communication facilities so, after each massive shelling, thousands of Ukrainians lose their Internet access or any mobile connection at all.

According to the Netblocks company, which monitors cyber security, the drop in Internet traffic was first observed on October 10 during the first mass attack on critical infrastructure. However, in November, communication “drops” were even more drastic. On November 23, after another attack, Internet traffic fell to 35% of the usual level.

One of the solutions is to switch between different operators which became possible due to agreements between Ukrainian mobile operators. When none of the operators has an available network connection, then radio or Starlinks come into play. Demand for Starlinks has at least doubled in the fall, with some business owners buying them to keep their offices running.

When mobile communication does not work at all, people are left alone in the dark, and may not even know about an air alert. Thus, it was predictable that demand for radios and walkie-talkies increased significantly.

Another wave of migration?

Since the beginning of mass blackouts and the drop in outside temperatures, a new wave of Ukrainian refugees was forecasted. Partially such forecasts turned into reality: in recent weeks, according to border crossing statistics, more Ukrainians entered Poland than returned from it to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the gap between these figures is not so drastic, so it is too early to talk about the imminent mass departure of Ukrainians abroad. According to the Ukrainian survey (Gradus data), when asked whether people would stay at their current place with a lack of electricity in the cold season, the majority (65%) answered positively. Another responded that they would look for a warmer place within Ukraine, but very few people (3%) confirmed their intention to move abroad.

In search of light

Candlelight concerts

Those who, despite all the difficulties, do not plan to leave their residence, are looking for all possible ways to cope with power outages.

It is natural for people to seek to continue their usual life despite everything, and therefore Ukrainians try not to give up their daily habits: they read books with a headlamp, have dinner by candlelight, do a manicure in the parking lot, or blow-dry hair in the shopping center. In order to save products in case of blackouts, when the refrigerator is out of work, Ukrainians take them out to the balconies or hang them outside the window. And that is a single positive side of winter period.

Show business solved the issue creatively, atmospheric and candlelit concerts became new trend and turned out a good substitute especially before Christmas and New Year.

Many of those, who work online or study remotely, also use coworking spaces or “points of invincibility”, places with heat, hot tea, Starlink, and Internet connection network. In Kyiv, several maps were elaborated where you can see which establishments operate during power outages.

Gas stations, shopping centers, and cafes therefore also transformed into points of invincibility – very often people come there to study, work, charge gadgets, or in extreme cases – connect an inhaler.

And in order to know when the electricity is switched on at home, in some areas creative residents developed special messenger bots that notify whether the light is on or off. Then people know what is going on at home while they are away in search of light.

Written on the box: “If you are stuck in an
elevator this is the aid kit for you”

Another interesting concept implemented in multi-story buildings and skyscrapers is survival kits that neighbors collect and leave in the elevator for one who may suddenly get stuck there during an outage.

Recharging points were also installed in the subway, at some stations of Kyiv underground. However, unfortunately, not everywhere such transport was able to adapt. In Kharkiv, due to power outages, the metro fully stopped its operation several times. In many areas, public transport, which depends on the power grid, was also replaced or its number was reduced –as a result, its schedule was changed and the intervals were increased.

Blackout “is a new black”

The very talk about “blackouts” has become a trend in Ukrainian society. Everyone, especially youngsters, shares a lot of jokes and life hacks on how to survive under blackouts. Ukrainians seem to be competing with each other about who can come up with the most striking place or way to find light or the Internet. What is interesting, on the TikTok application, videos with the hashtag “блекаут” (eng. blackout) have already received almost 50 million views (as of December 8), with the word “blackout” being in the top 10 in the category “What is it” in Ukrainian Google requests in 2022.

Ukrainian phone tells us more than anyone

Ukrainian phones can inform us more about changes in the everyday life of Ukrainians. The data of a pilot experiment among Kyiv youth, who recorded indicators from their smartphones in recent months, give some interesting details.

In general, screen time remained as high as it was before the October shelling (October 10), because for young people 6+ hours of active screen time are fairly normal. One of the functions that began to be used more often under blackouts is a flashlight, which is used both at home and on the streets for at least one hour a day among Kyiv residents. In general, this is 11% of screen time, but among those who have no light for longer periods of time (more than 5 hours), this percentage generally reaches a quarter of screen time.

Likewise, during the outages, Ukrainians began to walk more frequently due to shifts in electric transport schedules and the lack of possibility to use elevators. Compared to September, in October and November, the average number of steps taken by Kyiv residents increased (more than 4,000 steps per day). An even more significant alteration occurred in the number of floors climbed: if in September the average number was about 6.5, then in October it was already 8.1, and in November when blackouts were introduced throughout the whole month, it was 9.8 floors per day. Of course, it depends on where exactly a person lives: for those on the lower floors, the change was about + 2 floors after the blackouts, and for those above the 5th floor (who previously almost never climbed on foot) – the activity increased significantly from 5.8 in September to 8.8 floors in October and up to 12.4 floors in November.

For active young people, of course, this is rather a beneficial additional physical exercise, but for the elderly or those with health problems, such climbing is a challenge and a barrier to leaving the house at all. Especially the issue is in place for residents of large cities (Kyiv, Kharkiv), many of whom live in 15-, 20-, and 30-story buildings. For Ukrainian couriers, it also became an issue, so many delivery services adopted the rule from the beginning of the blackouts: in the absence of light, the courier makes a delivery no higher than the 5th floor, where the customer has to meet him.

Overall, the blackouts affected all spheres of Ukrainian life. The routine changed and everyday habits shifted. But despite all odds, Ukrainians are strong enough to face circumstances and get used even to such cold and dark conditions. They are invincible and keep the front in the rear with great resilience.

Tetiana Maloholovchuk-Skrypchenko

Alina Horbenko