State of emergency in Crimea after electricity pylons ‘blown up’
Almost two million people without power after attack thought to be by Ukrainian nationalists
The flag of the Crimean Tartars wrapped around a damaged electricity pylon near Chaplynka village of Kherson region, Ukraine, November 22nd, 2015. Photograph: Hromadske TV/EPA
Crimea was left without electricity supplies from Ukraine on Sunday after pylons carrying power lines to the Russia-annexed peninsula were blown up overnight.
It was not immediately clear who had damaged the pylons, but a Russian senator described what happened as an “act of terrorism” and implied that Ukrainian nationalists were to blame.
A state of emergency was declared in Crimea after the pylons were damaged, cutting off power to almost two million people, media and the Russian government said on Sunday.
Crimea receives the bulk of its electricity from the Ukrainian mainland and its seizure by Russia last year prompted fury in Kiev and the West, which then imposed economic sanctions on Russian companies and individuals.
Russia’s energy ministry said emergency electricity supplies had been turned on for critical needs in Crimea and that mobile gas turbine generators were being used, adding that about 1.6 million people of a population of roughly 2 million remained without power as of 10am Irish time.
Ukraine’s energy minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said in a statement that four power lines had been damaged and that two districts of Ukraine’s Kherson region were also left without power.
Ilya Kiva, a senior officer in the Ukrainian police who was at the scene, said on his Facebook page the pylons had been “blown up”, as did the Kherson region administration.
The head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, declared Monday a non-working day because of the emergency situation.
It an attack is confirmed to have been carried out by Ukrainian nationalists opposed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a further increase in tensions between Russia and Ukraine is likely.
Unidentified people had already attacked power lines leading to Crimea on Friday, after which a group called the Civil Blockade of Crimea prevented Ukrainian energy officials from conducting repairs.
The group, in which Crimean Tatar activists play a prominent role, denied it was responsible for either the attacks on Friday or Saturday night when contacted by Reuters on Sunday.
In September, Tatar activists opposed to Russia’s annexation of their indigenous homeland set up road blocks on roads leading from Ukraine to Crimea as part of an economic blockade aimed at dramatising the plight of Tatars in Crimea.
On Saturday, the pylons damaged on Friday were the scene of violent clashes between paramilitary police and Tatars as well as members of the nationalist group Right Sector, Russian media reported.
A Ukrainian police representative from Kherson region told TASS news agency on Sunday that police had cordoned off the area surrounding the damaged pylons and that preparations were under way for them to be repaired.
Ukraine’s energy ministry said one of the four damaged power lines could be repaired within 24 hours if workers were allowed safe and unfettered access to the site.
State-run energy firm Ukrenergo said it hoped to finish repairs on all the damaged lines within four days.