Ukraine leaves sabotaged power lines to Russian-annexed Crimea in mud

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2015 11:51 AM

By Pavel Polityuk

CHAPLINKA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Five days after saboteurs blew up power lines in southern Ukraine plunging Russian-annexed Crimea into an energy crisis, all four damaged pylons are out of action and engineers say they need a political decision to restore supplies.

The stalemate has left some 2 million Crimeans reliant upon emergency generators and has caused severe disruption, exposing how dependent Crimea remains on Ukraine a year and a half after it broke away to join Russia.

Some limited repair work has taken place, say Ukrainian government and energy officials, who have spoken of how the problem could - technically - be fixed relatively swiftly.

But on Friday the damaged pylons lay flat in thick mud as the wind whipped across the flat featureless landscape.

"If our high-level leadership takes a political decision to restore power or not to do so - and there is no such decision - we will do everything really quickly," said Ihor Bosko, a regional energy official. "We are sitting and waiting."

So far, ethnic Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalists have blocked repair teams. The authorities have let the activists remain in place and protesters say they won't budge until Russia meets a series of political demands.

Tatars, a Muslim people with a long history of habitation in Crimea, accuse the peninsula's new Kremlin-backed authorities of oppressing them, allegations officials deny.

A Reuters reporter saw three Ukrainian tanks and two armored personnel carriers headed to the border with Crimea on Friday afternoon, but it was unclear what their purpose was.

Russia, which has accused Ukraine of "torturing" Crimeans with the power cuts, has responded by cutting coal deliveries to Ukraine.

A Ukrainian lawmaker close to the circle of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk on Tuesday said the Crimean blackout had been orchestrated with the tacit consent of Kiev.

It was, he said, meant as a political signal to Moscow.

The Ukrainian government rejected that assertion, dismissing the charge it was not taking action to fix the problem as groundless.

A government spokeswoman on Friday declined to comment when asked whether Ukraine was deliberately not repairing the lines.

MUDDY FIELD

Visits to the site of the destroyed power facilities by Reuters on Thursday and Friday suggests little activity.

In a muddy field, a reporter saw that only partial repair work had been carried out on one of the four pylons. Four young activists blocking repair work huddled in a tent nearby. Nor was there any sign of police or repair teams.

Ukrainian energy utility Ukrenergo held talks with the activists on Friday.

Yuri Kasich, the firm's first deputy head, told Reuters the company was worried about the situation.

"The lines on the ground are putting strain on other pylons so Ukrenergo is interested in fixing the lines so that the pylons are upright and the lines taut," he said.

But when asked whether the activists would now allow engineers to start work, he suggested there had been no progress.

"As far as I know a group is working in Kiev and a political decision will be taken there," he said.

A map of Crimea's power network can be seen here: http://reut.rs/1PS91a2

The activists, though few in number and apparently unarmed, appear determined.

One of the activists, a 20-year-old Tatar who gave his name as Khan, said he was from the Crimean capital Simferopol.

"My relatives told me they are ready to wait for as long as it takes and to sit without light, to live by candlelight, and to eat grass so that Crimea can be returned to Ukraine," he said.

"The Ukrainian authorities are absolutely with us, but they cannot say so openly. Perhaps they are afraid. We will stay here until victory. Until the hostages and political prisoners are released there won't be any electricity."

Izet Gdanov, a senior Tatar activist who has been helping enforce a road blockade of Crimea for the last two months, said the activists had specific demands for Russia, such as releasing individuals they regard as political prisoners.

"There are demands which also concern Crimean and Ukrainian mass media and observers being allowed in," he said, saying activists had received letters from ordinary Ukrainians urging them to keep Crimea without power to remind the world about the peninsula's occupation.

"When we started our blockade of Crimea all state organs actively supported us," he said. "The authorities understand what we are doing and let us get on with it."

(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Ralph Boulton)