Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The 2018-2019 heating season in Ukraine started almost like in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” — with the inhabitants of apartment complexes freezing and whole cities without centralised heating.
Not only debtors, but also the Ukrainians who are paying extortionate tariffs to the detriment of other expenditure fell under the hot hand of “Naftogaz“, which decided not to release gas to individual heating enterprises. For such honesty and self-sacrifice they received a cold “thank you” in the form of a lack of heating in subzero temperatures outside the window.
In general, spirits in the government were blissful until a high degree of protest started to be smelled in the cities. The burning of tyres brought the Cabinet of Ministers and “Naftogaz” back to reality, and protest rallies outside the central executive authorities perhaps offered a little reminder that the population can be active not only concerning money, but also concerning the infringement of their fundamental interests, such as, for example, the absence of heat in houses in the winter.
At the beginning of November there were absolutely no centralised heat supplies in Smela, Krivoy Rog, Kamenskoye, and ten more small settlements of Ukraine.
The amount of patience in different settlements was proportionate to the thermometer. When night temperature dropped into the minus, the inhabitants of Krivoy Rog who remained without heat firstly came to the supplier of gas, “Krivorozhgaz“, and due to an absence of consensus, they rushed into the room and then removed the seals to give gas to the boilers of freezing areas.
In Smela, where there hadn’t been any heating since the beginning of the cold weather, the protest moods of the inhabitants slowly came nearer to the “revolt” mark. The condition of the population, close to the seizure of power and mob law, frightened the central bodies so much that additional police squads, including special troops, were sent to the city. According to the official narrative they were sent to maintain public order.
The lack of gas in these and other cities — Kamenskoye, Shepetovka – and in the districts of Odessa and Kherson is connected to the debts of heat supplying enterprises to regional gas companies and “Naftogaz”. The debts that arose in the previous heating seasons acquired penalty fees at such a rate that the amount of debt actually doubled. It is unrealistic to pay “Naftogaz” all its “wishlist”, therefore the leadership of “Naftogaz” recoups it from the population, without giving heating companies a nomination on gas.
The situation became so heated that the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko demanded from the local authorities to start the boilers under his personal responsibility. Formally, the head of state isn’t at all related to the provision of heat to cities, therefore he doesn’t actually bear any responsibility for his statements.
But the pathos itself, like the demand of the head of state to give heat to freezing cities, says that a cold revolt is not a beautiful analogy, but a future reality that is taking shape.
The diagnosis is “non-professionalism”
In November those few who still doubted the competence of the current head of the government to govern the state (he promised and showed how it is necessary!) lost their remnants of belief in his ability to not avoid “dancing on a rake”, then at least to recognise his mistakes.
If the Prime Minister is the head of the government and, as the chief, is responsible for all punctures, then by definition the central power must share some of the blame for the lack of heating in the district and regional centers of Ukraine.
But in our case it turns out that this isn’t so. Vladimir Groisman without hesitation reported that the disruption of the heating season lies completely on the mayors of the freezing cities. It is precisely they, and not the high quality manager in the Prime Minister’s chair, who failed, couldn’t cope with things, and are completely guilty.
At all times good leaders always differed in their ability to admit the guilt of their subordinates, as well as their own guilt. But in Ukraine there is now a shortage of good leaders in power that’s why we hear from the Prime Minister what we hear.
Viktor Skarshevsky considers that the blame for the thermal collapse completely lies on the central government.
“As I expected, Vladimir Groisman didn’t take the blame for the thermal collapse. The local authorities were accused of all sins. And 2 days prior, at the regional development council, Groisman was proud of the super-success of decentralisation. And 2 months before this the same Groisman declared that Ukraine is completely ready for the heating season. There was a slight hiccup,” stated Skarshevsky.
According to him, in order to solve the problems with the heat supply the Cabinet of Ministers must a) reduce the criterion involved in calculating the level of gas debt that gives “Naftogaz” the right to disconnect heating companies and combined heat and power plants from the gas supply, and b) forbid the gas supply being terminated during the heating period. The government made these decisions, but they are temporary.
Unfortunately, the Cabinet of Ministers has long played on the side of the gas monopolist and doesn’t protect the interests of the population. “Naftogaz” has been busy, for the second year, with fighting against regional gas companies for the monopolisation of the delivery market. And in this war all means are good, so refusing to give gas to energy carriers in the winter is not genocide, but an ingenious market move of “peace enforcement” performed by the “daring managers” of “Naftogaz”.
It is noteworthy that representatives of “Naftogaz” not only didn’t receive any penalties for this anti-social experiment, which borders on an attempt to destabilise the situation in Ukraine, but there also wasn’t a word of censure from their chief directors — Groisman and Poroshenko.
Rolling electricity blackouts come nearer
In addition to the absence of heating in the houses of a number of settlements, they can also lose electricity supplies. The threat of rolling blackouts inevitably comes nearer with the approach of the cold weather. Experts speak about a growing shortage of electricity in the power supply system: consumption grows, but, alas, there isn’t any production.
According to the energy expert Yury Korolchuk, last week the power supply system of Ukraine was already ready to introduce a schedule of emergency shutdowns.
“In practical terms, this means that either one large region like Dnepropetrovsk or Kharkov will be left without electricity or 2-3 average-sized regions – Vinnytsia, Khmelnitsky, Cherkassy – will have no electricity consumption,” noted Korolchuk.
The reasons for such a catastrophic situation lie in the shortage of coal produced in Ukraine and the high prices for imported resources, which aren’t covered by the tariff for electricity generation for thermal power plants approved by the Ministry of Energy and Coal. In order to work with imported coal, thermal power plants will have to make losses or stop electricity generation.
In addition, the shortage of electricity was also created by the spasmodic work of nuclear power plants, which, because of an increase in the number of emergency shutdowns, cease to generate electricity, and these cases are also replaced by the work of thermal power plant with a high cost of electricity generation, stated the expert.
Rolling blackouts are also a consequence of the non-professionalism of the government, which couldn’t make the necessary decision in time to support the coal industry. In light of the transition of thermal power plants from the anthracitic group of coal to gas, the Cabinet of Ministers could support the industry or introduce stimulating mechanisms, but alas, this didn’t happen, and the threat of a power outage starts to take shape.
The current heating season became the first in the history of Ukraine where the central government has allowed a municipal collapse in the form of an absence of heat, which in many respects has an artificial character. The government didn’t want to take measures to prevent such a situation happening, and only the threat of spontaneous protest actions in cities somehow pushed the central government to solve the problems that were created by precisely its actions and key decisions.
But for how long can “Father Frost” sober up the Cabinet of Ministers? “Naftogaz” continues its policy of selectively targeting heating companies, and, probably, only tyres outside the central office and other unfriendly actions carried out by people who have become outraged because of the cold will be able to return it to reality.
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