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Russia has destroyed half of Ukraine's energy production. How is the country coping?


Ukrainians are now building their lives around the times when the lights are on. Rolling blackouts are now normal. They're caused by Russian strikes, and they're expected to last for months. So energy infrastructure is a big topic at a summit on Ukraine's recovery from the war, which wraps up today in Berlin. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Kyiv.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: When the blackouts began a few weeks ago, Ukrainians knew what to do. They had been through this before. At a market in Kyiv, psychologist Maria Hubko stocks up on nuts, canned tuna, dried fruit and other ingredients for blackout-proof meals.

MARIA HUBKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "I also make lots of buckwheat," she says, "because you can steam it in a thermos where you've stored hot water." Computer programmer Oleksandr Popov says he's made his own batteries for power storage and charges them between outages. When the electricity is off, he says he connects the batteries to his refrigerator and...

OLEKSANDR POPOV: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Two air conditioners, computers, laptops, lights, a dehumidifier and an air purifier. And on a farm in western Ukraine, Maria Dzyubak uses headlamps to feed baby goats at night.

MARIA DZYUBAK: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: And she stores the goat cheese she markets in a cellar instead of the refrigerator. She also organizes her day around the availability of water. The pumps need electricity.

DZYUBAK: (Through interpreter) When the lights come on, we immediately collect water for our goats, wash our equipment, disinfect what we need for cheesemaking, and only later, after the power is off, we do everything else.

KAKISSIS: Power outages are expected throughout summer, but Ukraine's government and power companies are racing to manage the power deficit by winter, the toughest season.

DMYTRO SAKHARUK: That will be in 120 days. Yeah, we do count.

KAKISSIS: Dmytro Sakharuk is executive director of DTEK, Ukraine's private energy supplier. He says Ukrainians could face up to 20 hours of blackouts a day if the country cannot repair its energy infrastructure. Demands will strain households and critical infrastructure such as hospitals and city services - industries, too, especially Ukraine's fast-growing defense industry.

SAKHARUK: It's not about energy itself. It's about the whole country. It's about the ability to win the war.

KAKISSIS: At the moment, the war has forced Ukraine to import electricity from European countries.

CHERYL EDLESON HANWAY: But imports alone are never going to help prevent the large scale power interruptions, particularly during the winter.

KAKISSIS: Cheryl Edleson Hanway directs infrastructure and energy development in Europe and Latin America for the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank.

EDLESON HANWAY: And it's also important to point out that the increased imports obviously increase the burden on foreign exchange reserves as well.

KAKISSIS: She says Ukraine wants to create a decentralized, flexible energy system that's less vulnerable to future attacks. But attracting enough investors to finance this, as well as long-term changes to the energy grid, remains challenging.

EDLESON HANWAY: People are looking at not only the risk of future strikes, but also just the overall risk of investing in a country that has active ongoing fighting.

KAKISSIS: Sakharuk, the Ukrainian energy executive, says another crucial challenge is securing more air defense systems as Ukraine restores its power plants.

SAKHARUK: The main thing is not only to rebuild but to protect what will be rebuilt.

KAKISSIS: Because, he says, Ukraine expects Russia to strike again.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF GIA MARGARET SONG, "APATHY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.