"But some are more equal than others". How blackouts after shelling show social contradictions in Kharkiv


One of the so-called "points of invincibility" as if in the middle of the polar tundra in Northern Saltovka - the most injured neighbourhood of our city. There is a generator, a stove and even Starlink. After seven waves of Russian missile attacks on critical infrastructure during the fall of 2022, Ukrainian authorities are deploying these heating sites throughout the country. Compared to the equipment of other such places, this one still looks like an exception, but even if everything is provided to the maximum, it is difficult to imagine how it will be able to save all those in need, if communications will fail for many days in the middle of winter.

With this in mind, it is especially important to support our online newsletter for continuous work on this international rubric or the campaign for strengthening local community social fabric joining this fundraising. A couple of cups of coffee in your country even before the war could be equivalent in price to the daily wage of a worker in Ukraine. Many thanks everyone in advance!

Submitted by Thunderbird on December 1, 2022

Sparkling signs in stores and pharmacies, escalators in shopping malls, elevators, coffee makers, microwaves, kettles, heaters in administrative and corporate offices. Someone is without light for 7-8 and even 12-14 hours, and for someone freshly ground hot coffee with a hot donut in the office, because otherwise the gears in the master's head will not turn. During the war, all are united, but some are more united, as usual. We will not discuss in this article the issue with export of energy saved by shutdowns abroad, as it's more about big politics than economics. Let's talk about more down-to-earth things, which in the Western world are called disaster capitalism, and to put it more simply, about profiteering on essential goods using emergency conditions.

With the approach of the heating season and massive power outages due to Russian strikes, demand for generators, power banks, gas cylinders, storage lamps and other equipment allowing to survive rolling blackouts has begun to rush. Already in the second half of October, generators were on the list of scarce goods in many retail chains. We are talking not only about household appliances of small power, but also about industrial ones. And those models that still remain on the market have increased in prices at times. Many such stories can be found on the social networks of the city of hucksters and cops, where part of the district substations, etc. broken since the beginning of the invasion:

“There are a lot of misers in Kharkov. So, last year the battery was bought for 4000, this year it was 10000. Inverters were 2-3 thousand hryvnias, now 5-6 ones. Charging station in Europe 600 euros, in Kharkov 52000 UAH. Maybe delivery is expensive, I understand…”

Typical outskirts of Kharkov during blackouts

Those who live in private homes have begun to stock up on generators en masse. Such equipment is not suitable for city apartments - it is quite noisy, and with exhausts it turns the room into a gas chamber, i.e. it must be installed outside the home. In particular, if the Forte FG 3800 gasoline generator not so long ago cost about 19 thousand UAH, then at the end of October a price tag of more than 24 thousand appeared on the Foroom website. And this is not the limit. Some sellers offer the same model for over 28 thousand UAH. For comparison, in September, before the start of rolling blackouts, such a generator could be purchased for 16 thousand UAH. Almost all goods related to autonomous power supply have skyrocketed, and the less products remain in store warehouses, the more expensive they are. New deliveries are able to cover the deficit - however, due to the complicated logistics, the delivery time of the goods is lengthening.

Moreover, due to savings by fabricators, such amounts, to put it mildly, do not correspond to the quality of equipment. “A husband at one of the schools in Kholodnaya Gora was present when the generator was started, which was brought for a heating point. The electrician who installed it, shaking so that this miracle device would not burn out at startup, did not allow it to be loaded. He says that there are cases when they do not start at all or burn at the slightest load. It means, generators for schools are just for show, ” writes a resident Natalia in one of the Kharkov districtal chats.

Blackout in the downtown of Kharkov

“A few days ago I gave a lecture to one student. Others disappeared from the contact into the same cold void. Life is creativity, it is the strength and desire to create. It is clear that if there is a zoom box even with one student, I will give that lecture. But. People are just surviving. The minimum needs are not to die from the cold, from thirst, from hunger, from the icy horror for relatives poured through the veins, from shelling... what kind of training can we talk about here, - Olena Kharytonova, an associate professor at one of Kharkov universities, asks a rhetorical question. - So I spent only 3 hours of the broadcast, it felt like I was in a cold void. The guests are either in touch or not in touch, the battery is running low, but I have it. And you are deceived that when at least 10 people listen to you and your voice holds reality for them, then this is wonderful. But no. In fact, people are not up to ethers and not up to life-giving marathons. The mass of people do not have all this, and it is still good when there is gas.”

It's time to remember social anarchism with its ideas of horizontal mutual aid. If mini-power plants were installed in the cities, supplying particular quarters (microdistricts) and located close to them, it would be much more difficult for the aggressor to de-energize them. Moreover, during a missile attack, they could feed the de-energized neighbors and balance the acute shortage of electricity in the system. In the most negative scenario, particular neighborhoods or groups of houses would be turned off, but definitely not districts or cities as a whole. Moreover, such stations of low and medium power of 50-60 MW can operate both in a single system of energy supply and distribution (the notorious power grids), and independently, i.e. nourishing a quarter, a microdistrict, a district, a small settlement, a group of houses. Alas, it is not possible to buy such a thing for donations from a house or a group of neighboring houses. And even when they are purchased by the state, to order, manufacturing, arrival and installation will take from 3 to 18 months.
Also on the central square...

If attacks on the energy infrastructure were predicted from the end of spring, why did the authorities fail to prepare for winter? Where is the pre-purchased equipment - even tens of thousands of generators as a temporary measure? With a week-long blackout already at -10°C, a flat without water and heating, especially in panel houses, quickly turns into an ice crypt. The public was assured to the last that it was impossible to lay down the Ukrainian energy system, but they began to prepare when the energy sector had already gone haywire. During the war, 232.37 million UAH were found for several affiliated companies to demolish the tram tracks on Vesnina Street for the expansion of the road, however a couple of millions for backup generators to pumping stations, which should have been even in peacetime, was not remained. Even on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, the city council of Kharkov does not have an emergency plan, only business plans. Not to mention that even in times of war, utility providers put pressure on those who have bills in arrears.
The shopping and entertaiment center of Nikolsky in the same downtown always looks like Las Vegas. A couple of weeks ago, the fourth floor resumed work!

Some private mini-factories, workshops and retail outlets remain with electricity during planned outages, although they are not connected to critical infrastructure facilities, and the delivery of fuel tanks to them for generation is somehow not noticeable too. Apparently, the ties in the regional energy company decide - it is possible to move competitors in the market. “Business is business, but when compatriots profit from our common grief, I would like to remind you that no one has canceled the boomerang yet. First there was Covid, and greedy businessmen got rich on masks and gloves. Now the common misfortune is that our neighbors are bombing us and depriving us of light and heat. I have never seen flashlights for 1500 hryvnias. Tourist tiles have increased in price by 2-3 times in a couple of days, and this is not the limit. You have no conscience”, Kyiv-based journalist Marina Petik complained on Facebook.

Is it possible to rely on solar energy as an alternative? Googling maps of solar activity, we immediately see that Kharkov cannot be compared in terms of its level with the southern regions of the country. In addition, solar panels require not only light, but also batteries, which are not cheaper. Most of the population cannot afford it. A typical Chinese-made 590W Risen RSM120-8-590M Titan solar panel will run from $250 to $312. You need to buy at least four of these - a total of 2360 W (this is at least $1000), then buy an inverter from $150-250 or more, plus a battery. Even the cheapest ones will cost from $50 apiece, not to mention the fact that after 3 years they fail completely.

Or to take a generator from speculators. For the same Chinese quality, the price is $420 with a power of 2.8 kW with gas already on board. Previously, exactly the same device cost about $150-200-300, in China now you can buy a similar one for the same amount, or a better one for $400-450 (not made there). Connect natural or liquefied gas - and let's go. Gas is much cheaper than gasoline or diesel. Gasoline or diesel generator can also be converted into gas. Changing oil and spark plugs will cost approximately up to $20. Panels can help out in favorable weather, if there is no fuel in general. And even then, it is better to do everything in a complex way: a windmill + a solar panel + other options. And this already turns out to be rich (although there is another nuance - between solar panels and a 10 kW windmill, the price is almost the same, but the installation of wind turbines in Kharkov is forbidden).

Poorer people are choosing more budgetary ways. For example, a 100 Amp battery: enough to charge gadgets for a week, does not make noise and does not need fuel. Or another option: uninterruptible power supply + 180 Amp battery from a truck = 6 hours of laptop + light + phone on charge. Works without problems.

What conclusions are drawn from this state of affairs in the city? Except for those who over-watched the telethon and completely lost touch with reality, already packing their bags for a vacation next summer in Crimea, the most common reaction is “we are just suckers, we are used, everything is the same as always.” We would like to hope that even after the war, everything experienced will be rethought and will serve to radically change our society.

Finally, we recommend that you also read our material on how mobilization in Ukraine and the impossibility of leaving for men worsen wages and working conditions.

Along with this, you may be very interested to look at a historical piece about the takeover strikes at the factories of Kharkov and the role of anarchists in them, when it became the first capital of Ukraine.