Ukraine dispatch: ‘Ukrainians are stocking up on firewood’ Dispatches
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Ukraine dispatch: ‘Ukrainians are stocking up on firewood’

Ukrainian law students and young lawyers are reporting for JURIST on developments in and affecting Ukraine. This dispatch is from Anastasiia Rozvadovska, a law graduate from Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv currently pursuing her LL.M. at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. 

People in Ukraine are returning to long-forgotten methods of heating due to the threat of an energy crisis during the war with Russia. Ukrainians are stocking up on firewood while hoping that the winter will be warm. In areas where communal infrastructure has been damaged by shelling, authorities are recommending that everyone switch to autonomous heating. For example, in the Sumy region, particularly in Okhtyrka, where a thermal power plant was destroyed, residents are being encouraged to switch to electric heating, use heat pumps with infrared panels, or install a warm floor system.

The influence of Russian aggression against Ukraine can be noticed not only within the Ukrainian territory. Prices of goods and services are growing rapidly everywhere and even now there is already a shortage of grain and oil supplies across Europe. The issue of energy resources is the most difficult one, as Russia was the main supplier of gas, coal, and oil for the EU.

A sharp cut-off of Russian resources will lead to an energy crisis, but nobody wants to manage the trade with what many consider to be a terrorist country, and being a sponsor of war is strongly condemned by society. Therefore, searching for new energy sources and partners is a new reality for many countries around the world.

Even before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, however, gas prices in Europe were rising as the general demand for gas increased. This was caused by the recovery of those economies after the Covid-19 period. The weather also played a vital role: cold winters and at the same time periods of abnormal heat in summer led to high consumption of energy. As a result, gas reserves in the European Union are now significantly lower than usual.

Even before the war Ukraine was also on the verge of an energy crisis. There was a catastrophic shortage of coal and the authorities were trying to put into operation all available nuclear power units in order to eliminate the lack of electricity.

“Russia keeps on actively manipulating our energy market. They prefer to flare the gas than to deliver it. This market is not functioning anymore,” was a message of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, September 14, 2022, in an annual State of the European Union address.

She underlined that EU nations would need to decrease electricity consumption by at least 5 percent during peak hours. That would require member states to identify the hours with the highest expected prices and seek to drive down demand at those times. Moreover, the European Commission also proposed a profit cap on energy producers. This would involve setting a temporary revenue cap of $180 per megawatt-hour on “inframarginal” electricity producers, such as renewables and nuclear facilities, which provide power to the grid at a relatively low cost.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi believes that due to the Russian invasion, the next heating season will be the most difficult in all the years of independence, but tariffs for the population will remain unchanged.

Ukraine and Europe need to stand together and cooperate to solve the energy question. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna recently addressed this:

The energy and security crisis on the continent, as well as the global food crisis today, can be overcome only under the condition of our close integration with the EU. Currently, it is actively ongoing – the “transport visa-free” system has started between Ukraine and the EU, there are no more tariffs on the import of goods from Ukraine, and there are “paths of solidarity” in order for Ukrainian agricultural products to meet demand on the international market. And the synchronization of our energy networks with ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity) in March made it possible to gradually increase the export of clean electricity to EU countries.

According to her, Ukraine is waiting on a significant increase in the volume of electricity exports in the future, which will allow both to reduce the consumption of Russian gas in Europe and support the liquidity of the Ukrainian electricity market, and help Ukraine in the event of a loss of generation capacity this winter.

At the same time, during the war, Ukraine will not sell its own gas and coal abroad. All domestic production will be directed exclusively to domestic needs. According to the Minister of Energy Herman Galushchenko, preparations for the heating season are proceeding according to plan. However, due to the war, there are also serious infrastructural problems and it will be difficult to supply heat or gas to many houses due to the destroyed networks.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that the US “is doing everything in its power” to support those shouldering the fallout of Russia’s invasion. Although it is still uncertain how much liquefied natural gas the US will be able to send its European allies across the Atlantic.

To summarize, there is no doubt that it will be difficult to get through the 2022/2023 heating season, but we all believe in the best, and with the help of other countries, special programs, measures, and the plans that Ukraine and Europe are preparing for winter.