In eastern Ukraine, keeping the lights on is dangerous work

BAKHMOUT – As fighting in eastern Ukraine progresses, Russian attacks cut off electricity, water and gas to entire towns – and utility crews sent in to repair transmission lines and pipes broken find themselves in the middle of the bombardments.

Crews sometimes arrive at a location only to be forced to retreat due to fighting, officials say. Some villages are impossible to reach.

“It’s dangerous because we can hear the shells whistling above us,” said Sergii Marokhin, a water systems engineer from the city of Bakhmut, which recently suffered an upsurge in shelling as forces Russians are continuing their offensive in the Donetsk region, in the Donbass. , the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.

The previous day’s shelling had damaged water pipes in a nearby village and in Bakhmut itself which he and his team had repaired that morning. There was a sewer pipe to be repaired and damage to water pipes in other nearby villages.

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Even on calm days, there is still regular maintenance work to be done.

“People still go to work during the war,” he said with a shrug.

In some hard-hit places, people have been forced to rely on makeshift outdoor ovens and stoves built of brick and stone.

“Today, half the city is without water. The other half of the city gets its water from boreholes,” Oleksandr Marchenko, deputy head of Bakhmut’s military administration, said on Wednesday. A dam to the north burst, drying up the canal that passes Bakhmut, he said.

The town has an emergency water supply, but downed power lines have disrupted water pumping. Engineers hoped to repair the damage if it was safe to do so.

“Unfortunately, the city is bombed every day,” Marchenko said. As if to prove his point, mortar shells whizzed past his head, sending him plummeting to a grassy bank for cover.

The mortar fire landed with a thud in the northern part of the city, sending up puffs of black smoke.

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“There is no gas, no electricity, no water! thundered Viktor Paramonov as he and a few others on the outskirts of Bakhmut prepared to cook on a makeshift outdoor stove consisting of a wood fire and a metal plate balanced on bricks. “There is nothing.”

A nearby building materials factory had been destroyed by bombardment a few days earlier. In mid-May, the building next to his was hit, collapsing part of it.

Further north, in Sloviansk, a generator roared in the town hall after power went out due to high-voltage lines downed by fighting just to the east. The water supply was also cut off.

“Repair teams have to go to areas of combat operations, which is dangerous,” said Vadym Lyakh, head of Sloviansk’s military administration.

City authorities provided water from reservoirs to Sloviansk residents, who number about 30,000, up from 100,000 before the war, he said. Others used communal water pumps.

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Behind a series of apartment buildings pockmarked by shrapnel from a recent rocket strike, residents filled buckets and plastic bottles from an old yellow pump on the street.

The pump takes too much force to operate, grumbled an older man. Some women have to wait for a man to come by and pull the lever, he said, as he assembled a small metal stove to cook lunch outside.


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