Kyiv residents have been getting used to 12 hours a day without electricity, but the situation has gone from bad to worse recently as the Russian missile campaign puts the Ukrainian grid under further pressure, causing even more outages.
On Monday evening, in a normally busy neighborhood on the east bank of the Dnipro River, almost everything was dark. One cafe was open thanks to a generator, but other stores, including a supermarket, and the apartment buildings had no power.
Without power, everything takes much longer – just as the temperatures are beginning to drop. There are lines for cash machines, which only work when the power is on, and at stores and welfare centers that provide basic grocery supplies to those in greatest need.
The power interruptions have led to spontaneous street markets appearing, even though they are unlicensed.
The people of Kyiv are improvising and adapting as they have for much of this year, but without some relief from the missile attacks, many may choose to leave the city and hunker down for the winter months around a wood-burning stove.
On Sunday Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, said the city is preparing for worst-case scenarios in the event of further Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, which could potentially leave it without any power or water. He said: “Our enemies are doing everything to keep the city without heat, electricity, and water supply, and in general, they want us all to die.”
CNN has spoken to some of the city’s residents about the harsh realities that lie ahead, among them 21-year-old coffee shop barista, Anna Ermantraut.
When she arrived for work at 8.30 a.m. on Monday, there was no electricity. She said she eventually started work two hours later – but at 12 p.m. the power went out again.
Ermantraut said the coffee shop’s earnings had more than halved and she could no longer sell many cakes because the refrigerators were off so frequently.
Life is not much better at home, she told CNN. When the electricity goes there, she also loses the water supply.
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Ermantraut said she had begun thinking about what to do if the power situation further deteriorates and Kyiv is evacuated. She said she planned to move to a house in a nearby village where there is a stove that runs on firewood and a well with water.
When CNN met 70-year-old pensioner Lubov Mironenko she had been waiting in line for five hours at a welfare center for grocery supplies. The persistent outages have made it difficult to survive, she said.
Marya Litvinchuk, 29, a hairdresser, said the additional power cuts, in addition to the three scheduled every day, have worsened an already difficult situation.
When the power was cut off according to a schedule, “you could plan to work, but still, working time was reduced by half.” Of course, that meant that “earnings were also cut by half.”
In a bid to keep operating, she ordered special lights that run on batteries and bought a generator for $1,000 – even though the average price of a haircut is just $6. There was then more bad news as she discovered that she had been scammed and the generator didn’t work. She now has to take electric clippers home to recharge them overnight.
Like Ermantraut, she plans to move to the countryside to stay with relatives if Kyiv is evacuated.
Yuriy Pogulay, 39, is also suffering financially. Not so long ago the small cafe that Pogulay jointly owns operated between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. – they now struggle to stay open for more than three hours.
He told CNN that revenue had dropped significantly and that they cannot store food for long as they have tried to minimize using the refrigerator.
“I ordered a generator, but I don’t know when it will arrive,” he said.
Pogulay said the business was financially squeezed. “With the generator my costs will increase, but I can’t raise prices because the economic situation of people has worsened.”
The World Bank has forecast that the Ukrainian economy may contract by 40% or more this year because of the conflict.
One man who has suffered less than most is Anton Kargatov, a 36-year-old musician.
“I play music outdoors, so I don’t need electricity,” said Kargatov, who told CNN he has a sleeping bag and a powerbank at home. “If Kyiv is evacuated, I’m not going anywhere. There’s a well with water not far from my house. And in the backyard I can cook food over a fire. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
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Victoria Storozh works at a pizzeria in downtown Kyiv; the business suffers fewer power cuts than some as it is located in an area close to government buildings. Even so, she said: “My husband and I are ready in case we all have to evacuate, we have a stock of firewood and water at our dacha in the Kyiv region. We will live through the hard times there.”
Serhey Kizilov, 23, is a rehabilitation coach who works out of a basement gym. Lighting is just one of the issues he faces, he told CNN.
“Our whole sewage system depends on pumps running on electricity. Also our ventilation system,” he said. “Even if we can make the rooms light when there is no electricity, we can’t do anything about the sewage and ventilation.
“My income suffers also, because there are fewer people in the hall – not everyone wants to practice in such conditions.”