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Pressures on Ukraine's power grid pose a challenge to U.S. aid delivery

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

You've likely heard a lot about Ukraine's need for tanks and other weapons as Russia's invasion nears the one-year mark, but the war's also been an all-out assault on Ukraine's energy grid. And U.S. aid plays a critical role as the country struggles to keep the lights on. Eric Schmid from St. Louis Public Radio reports.

ERIC SCHMID, BYLINE: For Olena Pavlenko, Russia's attacks on Ukraine have few limits.

OLENA PAVLENKO: They are not attacking only the infrastructure which is close to the frontline, they cynically are targeting all the infrastructure in all parts of Ukraine.

SCHMID: Pavlenko is the president of Dixi Group, a think tank in Kyiv that focuses on issues around energy policy. She says every part of Ukraine has experienced power outages and that Russia wants to sever the parts of the country that generate electricity from the cities and villages that need it.

PAVLENKO: For example, Kyiv region, where I live, we do not have electricity for several hours every day.

SCHMID: Pavlenko says Ukraine needs a lot of additional equipment to repair the country's power grid and advanced weapons to protect it from Russia's air attacks. This is where the U.S. and other countries have been stepping in to help, delivering billions of dollars in military, economic and humanitarian aid.

In video from last September at Delaware's Dover Air Base, a half-dozen airmen push a large stack of weapons onto a C-17 cargo plane. They secure the goods with metal chains before loading the next pallet onto the aircraft bound for Ukraine. These kinds of shipments happen nearly every day.

JACKIE VAN OVOST: We are helping Ukraine defend itself against the naked aggression from Russia.

SCHMID: General Jackie Van Ovost leads the U.S. Transportation Command. It handles the military's logistical movements, including deliveries to Eastern Europe.

VAN OVOST: The air defense systems, the artillery systems, know that it came from the United States, mainly from the United States. And about 25 other countries have helped.

SCHMID: Van Ovost says she works with Ukrainian officials to ensure they're sending what the country needs the most at any given time. She then identifies where these items are and determines how they'll get to Ukraine. Conor Savoy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the U.S. is in a unique position to provide the support because of the military's prowess with logistics.

CONOR SAVOY: While other countries can replicate it, it's always at a much smaller scale. Countries have maybe three or four large transport aircraft versus the couple hundred large transport aircraft that the United States has.

SCHMID: Even with this key advantage, Savoy says it will still be difficult to deliver the kind of equipment Ukraine needs to distribute electricity.

SAVOR: We can't just go to, like, a warehouse run by Siemens or GE or some other large Western industrial conglomerate and just start pulling transformers and other grid components off the shelf.

SCHMID: Savoy says these items can take several months to produce before they can even reach Ukraine. He adds Ukrainians suffering the worst of the outages may not be able to wait that long.

SAVOR: At some point, it is a humanitarian crisis. And people will vote with their feet and try to find access to better conditions.

SCHMID: But Pavlenko disagrees. She says she hasn't heard of many people considering leaving because they don't have reliable electricity.

PAVLENKO: I have to say that what Russia creates with its attacks, including attacks on energy infrastructure, it creates only anger among the people.

SCHMID: And, she says, more resolve to win the war.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Schmid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Schmid

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