Oct 16, 2021
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Ukraine is not frozen yet?

Ukraine is not frozen yet?

Photo: TASS / Valery Morev

Social infrastructure facilities in Ukraine are still not heated, hospital patients have to bring blankets from home, and parents bring heaters to kindergartens and schools. This was stated by an expert in the field of housing and communal services Christina Nenno at a press conference dedicated to the problems of the heating season.

“The temperature in schools is now 14-15 degrees. One teacher, one nanny in the kindergarten, and one of them must constantly make sure that none of the children run up and put their fingers into the heater, ”she said.

In turn, the head of the Union of Utilities Consumers Oleg Popenko, said that schools and other facilities are waiting for blackouts, because there is not enough gas for the heating season, and there is no money to buy it.

At the same time, it is worth recalling that earlier Ukrainian officials asserted in unison that enough gas had been accumulated for the winter season, and Ukraine should not even be afraid of stopping Russian transit …

Something went wrong?

– The situation is absurd, like the whole Ukrainian energy sector after 2014, – believes expert of the analytical portal Alexey Ilyashevich… – In fact, there is gas in the Ukrainian subways – 18.7 billion cubic meters (as of October 7). These are, of course, not record figures. Last year, at the beginning of September, reserves amounted to 25.6 billion cubic meters, in 2019 – 19.5 billion. But the office of the President of Ukraine is confident that the accumulated volumes will be enough if there are no force majeure.

The question is different: consumers simply cannot get this gas at the prices that were fixed on September 30 by Naftogaz, the government and representatives of local authorities. For the population it is 7.4 hryvnia per cubic meter, for budgetary institutions – 13.6 hryvnia. Naftogaz Trading undertook to supply gas at such prices. But he just doesn’t bid. Other companies come and say: “Buy gas for 35-40 hryvnia.” There is simply no money in local budgets for such expenses.

You ask, “What happened?” I will answer: there has been a record rise in gas prices, which Ukrainian traders want to take advantage of. Apparently, Naftogaz Trading is deliberately inferior to consumers to its competitors. The stake is placed on the fact that local authorities, finding themselves in a hopeless situation on the eve of the start of the heating season, will buy gas at exorbitant prices. I am sure that this is a purely corrupt story. Another attempt to rip off “suckers”, that is, ordinary Ukrainians.

Deputy Head of the President’s Office Kirill Tymoshenko says that all this is speculation, Naftogaz is ready to conclude agreements with everyone. But what prevents you from doing this? What is the point of local authorities declaring emergencies if everything is in order? They just understand that Kiev wants to shift responsibility for the disastrous situation in the energy sector onto them.

“SP”: – If there is a real shortage, does Kiev have the opportunity to get more gas? Yes, at least steal from the pipe. Experience is …

– There is no need to steal. I think there will definitely be enough stocks in the storage facilities until February. But at what prices will it be sold? Who will profit and who will lose? These issues are now being resolved. It’s about a lot of money.

“SP”: – What else, the coma of the lack of heating, can be affected by the lack of gas?

– On the industry, of course: mining, metallurgical, chemical etc. The publication “Economic Pravda”, citing its sources, writes that in the event of a shortage of energy resources, industrial enterprises will first of all suffer – they will be offered to voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption by 10-20%. If they do not want to voluntarily, then coercive measures will be used. Ukrainian industry and its prospects in the next few months is a separate topic altogether.

“SP”: – Generally, hospitals and schools are budgetary institutions, the state should take care of them. But what about ordinary people? Are heat supply interruptions possible in entire cities?

– The state “took care”: it signed a memorandum with Naftogaz, which is not being implemented. A typical example of “care” for post-Maidan Ukraine. On the other hand, it is now mid-October. There is a time to play these games before the onset of frost. Naftogaz, the government and the president’s office probably understand this.

“SP”: – Are there any alternative heating methods for dwellings? Many have already adapted to the use of “biofuel”, but the same firewood … That is, the Ukrainians will not be lost?

– You’re right. There are alternative sources, but in the overall energy balance of Ukraine the share of gas and coal plants is very large. Replacing them just won’t work. By the way, coal is also bad. Centerenergo, the only state-owned company that serves thermal power plants, as of October 1, stocked 11 times less coal than it had planned. 11 times! They seem to be promising to buy the missing volumes, but coal prices are now very high. In addition, Ukraine does not want to import from Russia, and this is the most profitable and reliable option.

On November 1, the ban on the import of electricity from Russia and Belarus expires. The same “Economic Truth” reported that they did not want to renew it. But the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine claims the opposite: the resumption of electricity imports from the Russian Federation and Belarus is not planned.

“SP”: – And what about nuclear power? After all, everything seems to be normal with her in Ukraine …

– The stations themselves are working stably, everything is in order (if we take out of the brackets the emergency shutdowns of the units, which, however, occur not only in Ukraine). But there is a problem of huge debts to NNEGC “Energoatom” – it is the operator of all operating Ukrainian nuclear power plants. A month ago, he seized almost 19 billion hryvnia from the state-owned enterprise Energorynok, which until 2019 served as a single buyer and seller of electricity. That is, all generating companies sold their products to Energorynok, and he sold them to energy suppliers. Now this company must be liquidated, but only after paying off accounts payable and receivable. How to pay off? Its partners owe Energorynok almost 30 billion hryvnia. It turns out a cycle of debts in nature. The Ministry of Energy is convincing the Ministry of Finance to issue domestic government bonds, but so far this problem has not been resolved.

There is another problem: last year, the government “revised” the forecast for the country’s energy balance and cut the production of nuclear electricity. Renewable energy sources were not touched, coal and gas thermal power plants were not touched, because the interests of oligarchs and foreign investors are involved there. The atom had to take the rap. That is, if the consumption of electricity in Ukraine falls, then this is reflected in the activities of the nuclear power plant.

It is already necessary to think about the construction of new reactors (to replace those that will soon have to be decommissioned). But this is a topic for another conversation.

“SP”: – We often hear the mantra about “Ukraine will freeze”, will not survive the winter etc. Is this possible in reality or is it all horror stories?

– Every year we hear and every year we find out that these forecasts did not come true. Now, too, will not come true. There will definitely be problems with the passage of the heating season in Ukraine (they have already begun). Even communal riots are possible in certain cities and regions. But I do not admit that they will lead to a catastrophe and the end of the current Ukrainian government.

– Ukraine is a large enough country and in different regions the situation can be very different, – reminds political scientist, head of the Open Analytics project Roman Travin… – For example, in Kharkov schools, kindergartens and hospitals already have heating. This is partly due to the fact that Kharkiv is a relatively prosperous city in general, as well as the fact that there is now a campaign for the election of the mayor, and the current city government wants to show its effectiveness.

By the way, the price of gas for consumers in different areas can also differ significantly, we can talk about a difference of one and a half to two times or more. But on the whole, it is clear that there are many problems, and the traditional problems are aggravated by the shortage of gas in Europe and the colossal rise in prices when concluding short-term contracts. Also, don’t forget about changes in supply chains. And this is not only Nord Stream 2, which is about to start working in full, one can recall the new contract between Gazprom and the Hungarians, which will also complicate the reverse for Ukraine.

“SP”: – Should schools and hospitals be heated first of all? Are they saving on them? For what?

– I think that they will nevertheless find an opportunity to heat such objects. If necessary, the central government will intervene, and the issue will be resolved one way or another. At least in the overwhelming majority of settlements.

“SP”: – Earlier it became known that hospitals, schools, kindergartens, military units and other budgetary institutions before the heating season faced a crisis due to high fuel prices. They are forced to buy gas at a rate of 35-45 hryvnia (95-122 rubles) per cubic meter. It is expensive? But these are budget organizations, the state must pay …

– It is very expensive. As far as I understand, the main problem arose due to the fact that the budgets set prices below 10 hryvnia, while real tariffs jumped several times higher. Ukraine now has a rather complicated history with commercial organizations – gas suppliers, of which there are a lot. And, of course, none of them wants to work at a loss. But I think that the state and Naftogaz will somehow intervene in the situation, and social facilities will not remain completely without gas. Although in some areas the municipal authorities are already declaring an emergency.

“SP”: – Is there a risk to face the lack of heating in entire districts and cities? What should ordinary people do in this case?

– Central heating in Ukraine has not yet been turned on. According to the current rules, it must be served if the average daily temperature is below eight degrees for three days. I don’t think that people all over the country are left without heating because of the gas price. Although in some places there may be problems.

In my opinion, a much greater danger is the worn-out infrastructure, due to which every year more and more houses and entire districts are experiencing interruptions in the supply of heat. Let me remind you that in the mid-2000s, a fairly large Ukrainian city of Alchevsk was left without heating in winter. It was a real disaster. The repetition of this situation looks more and more real every year.

“SP”: – Are there any alternative heating methods for dwellings? In fact, all forests – where they are – are already fairly thinned out for firewood. Special boilers for biofuel were installed in many places dung, reeds, straw of various types, stems of sunflowers are now in full use as fuel …

– If we talk about residents of private houses, then yes, despite the prices, they will somehow get out. Much more difficult for those who live in apartment buildings with central heating. They are saved in different ways: they include gas and electric stoves, air conditioners for heating, various electric heaters. But it is clear that on the one hand, the houses are still cold, on the other hand, this is a colossal additional load on the power grid. And in winter, this will definitely not be a full-fledged solution.

“SP”: – Users of social networks react very sharply to the situation, they threaten to “take out the power.” Is this the opinion of individual people or do many Ukrainians think so? If so, what will they take out? Last winter there were also “tariff maidans”, but nothing has changed …

– This is a completely logical and understandable reaction of people. And many people really think so. But, speaking of protests in Ukraine, it should be borne in mind that any protest action, unless it is organized by the “right activists”, will be severely suppressed either by the authorities or by the same “right activists”. And there are a lot of examples of this. Yes, there may be some kind of massive spontaneous protests, but by themselves their participants will not endure anyone. Another thing is that certain forces can try to take advantage of such moods. But this will not lead to solving real problems of people.

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