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Ukraine's energy system far from collapse despite weeks of Russian strikes

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Recent Russian attacks have caused significant damage to the Ukrainian power system, but a total collapse is unlikely, the head of Ukraine's national grid company Ukrenergo Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said on Monday.

Since March 22, the Russian forces have been attacking Ukrainian thermal and hydropower stations as well as main networks on an almost daily basis, which has led to blackouts in many regions of the country.

"Their (the Russians') goal is to impose blackouts in some major Ukrainian cities, and our goal is to prevent it," Kudrytskyi told Reuters in an interview.

The county's largest private energy company, DTEK, has said the attacks damaged five of its six power plants, which lost 80% of their capacity.

DTEK, which meets about a quarter of the country's needs, has seen its thermal power stations and other facilities repeatedly hit by Russian missiles, drones and artillery in more than two years of war.

The missile attacks have also significantly damaged the largest Ukrainian hydropower station in Zaporizhzhia, as well as the Kaniv and Dnister stations.

Most of Ukraine's electricity is generated by three nuclear power plants, but thermal and hydro generation are key to balancing the system during consumption peaks.

"The biggest concern now is the state of electricity production, the part of it that balances the system - hydro and thermal generation. The scale of damage DTEK refers to is obviously a global (large-scale) level of damage," Kudrytskyi said.

But he said that the country's energy system was not near to collapsing.

"We are definitely not one step away from collapse. A collapse is an uncontrolled shutdown of most or the entire power system. This has not happened and will not happen, this scenario we consider as unlikely," he said.

Kudrytskyi said that Ukraine may see "localised problems" in separate regions, such as in the country's eastern city of Kharkiv or in Odesa in the south.

The energy system of the Soviet Union, and later Ukraine, was traditionally based on huge power plants, but such facilities are extremely difficult to protect from missile shelling.

"First of all, we need to think about our generation mix and we need to think about how to protect our generation assets from (air) strikes," Kudrytskyi said.

This would only be possible if Ukraine builds hundreds of small power plants throughout the country.

"This process needs to start immediately," he said.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Louise Heavens)