A fire broke out at an overloaded electrical substation in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Saturday, leaving nearly 500,000 people without power in a new blow to the country’s ailing energy grid that has been hammered by Russian strikes for months.
Officials warned that repairs could take weeks. The government said it would appeal to Turkey for help and ordered the energy ministry’s stocks of high-power generators to be sent to the city.
The CEO of the state grid operator, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said critical equipment that had already been damaged several times by Russian missile strikes burst into flames when it could no longer “withstand the load”.
“(The equipment) has been struck so many times that its state leaves much to be desired,” Kudrytskyi told a briefing in Odesa, a city on the Black Sea.
He said any further Russian missile or drone attacks could make the situation even worse.
Read more: Ukraine conflict and the changing European landscape
“We will do everything we can for the improvement of the power supply situation to take days rather than weeks,” he said.
Since October, Moscow has waged a campaign of massive missile attacks on energy infrastructure. Moscow says the strikes aim to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians.
“The situation is difficult, the scale of the accident is significant, it is impossible to quickly restore power supply,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal wrote on Telegram.
Odesa regional governor Maksym Marchenko said practically all of the city had lost power after the incident, and that as of Saturday afternoon about 500,000 people faced outages.
That figure represents about half of Odesa’s pre-war population of one million, when it was Ukraine’s third largest city.
“Today’s power supply (availability) allows to supply the city and the district about 40 or 45%, but if we factor in critical infrastructure, then of course very little is left for ordinary citizens,” Kudrytskyi said.
The temperature in Odesa stood at two degrees Celsius (35.6°Fahrenheit) on Saturday and is due to dip below freezing for much of next week.
Prime Minister Shmyhal said he had ordered Ukraine’s energy ministry to scramble every available high-power generator in its nationwide inventory and deliver it to Odesa within a day.
He also ordered Ukraine’s foreign ministry to appeal to Turkey to send powerships – vessels that carry power plants – to come to the city’s aid.
At the briefing, Kudrytskyi said the city’s critical infrastructure facilities were now being supplied with power.