Ukrainians are likely to experience the coldest winter in decades, the gas chief said, as the thermostats of Soviet-era central heating systems will be turned on and off later.
Yurii Vitrenko, the head of the state gas company Naftogaz, said indoor temperatures would be between 17 and 18°C, about four degrees lower than normal, and he advised people to stock up on blankets and warm clothes in case the outside temperatures drop to and above. above the -10C winter average.
“Heating season,” the period when central heating is on, will come later and end earlier, Vitrenko said.
The target hinges on Ukraine’s international allies providing the country with the necessary funds to import 4 billion cubic meters of gas, and no wildcards will be played – such as Russia destroying gas infrastructure or further reducing its gas supplies to Europe.
“Without the [western] financial support we will be short of gas and it will mean that we will have really big risks to the electricity system [going] down,” said Vitrenko. He described how Naftogaz supported some of Ukraine’s energy companies with gas in March when the coal supply was cut off by the war. “[Otherwise] there would have been no electricity,” he said.
“[Without the gas imports], there will be power outages in large parts of Ukraine,” Vitrenko said. “In terms of heating, if we don’t have these 2 billion cbm of gas, it means some households won’t get enough heating… so it’s going to be really too cold.”
Ukraine produces about 60% of the gas it needs domestically and imports the rest at market prices from its neighbors in the European Union. The country stopped buying gas directly from Russia in 2014, although it still consumes much of the same Russian gas that is pipelined through Ukraine from EU suppliers.
This roundabout system was devised to prevent Russia from using gas as a tool to influence Ukraine. Gas contracts between Russia and Ukraine have been a long-standing source of major corruption, with Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs allowing Russia to rule the country’s internal affairs in exchange for cheap gas.
Ukraine needs about $10 billion to import gas. Vitrenko said he thought his allies understood the need, but he couldn’t be sure Ukraine would get the money because “it’s very hard to have confidence during a war.”
However, the current calculation may change if, for example, Russia targets one of Ukraine’s critical gas infrastructure, power plants, or gas production facilities. About 50% of Ukraine’s gas fields are located in the Kharkiv region, 6.5 kilometers from the front lines. If the country or Ukraine’s storage facilities were to be damaged, Ukraine would have to import more gas.
Another much-discussed risk is if Russia decides to further reduce gas supplies to the EU, making the cost of gas even more expensive. Russia cut supplies to the EU earlier this year, causing gas and electricity prices to rise dramatically in some countries, including the UK.
“The world is going through the first truly global energy crisis in history,” Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, wrote last month. “The situation is especially dangerous in Europe, which is the epicenter of the energy market turmoil.”
The Ukrainian state gas company defaulted on creditors in July and said many of its customers were unable to pay their bills due to the war. Normally, Vitrenko said, Ukraine’s state-owned gas company would buy gas from the EU and resell it at a profit. But given rising prices and endemic unemployment caused by the war, Ukraine will have to subsidize energy prices this year.
Since February, Russia has focused on critical energy infrastructure, including oil refineries and power plants. In case it focuses on gas infrastructure or gas production facilities, Ukraine is preparing emergency packages that can serve up to 200,000 people, including mobile boilers, mobile heating units and diesel generators.
“If a big city like Kiev or Kharkiv [is cut off]naturally, [the kits] will not be enough, but in some small towns these emergency kits will make a difference,” Vitrenko said. “It all depends on the extent of the damage.”