Bracing for impact As Russia continues to pummel Ukraine’s power grid, Kyiv plans to move substations to underground bunkers
In October 2022, Russia, hoping to regain the upper hand after Kyiv’s successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv, began systematically shelling energy infrastructure targets throughout Ukraine. The attacks have left millions without power, sometimes for days at a time, and almost five months later, they show no sign of letting up. In response, according to Forbes Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities plan to transfer some of the country’s transmission substations to shellproof underground bunkers. The first two facilities could reportedly be ready as soon as next winter.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Development Ministry and the state energy company Ukrenergo have developed a pilot project to build two transmission substations that will be shielded from missile and drone attacks, Forbes Ukraine reported this week, citing an official from the country’s energy sector. The equipment will reportedly be kept in specially-designed underground bunkers.
The decision to move key parts of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure underground comes in response to the missile strikes that Russian forces have regularly launched on Ukrainian territory since October 2022, many of which have targeted the country’s power stations. According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the strikes have damaged about half of Ukrenergo’s substations and almost 20 thermal power plant units.
Yuri Kasich, an energy industry executive who led Ukrenergo in 2014–2015, told Forbes that the cost of an above-ground substation in 2021 was approximately $30 million. He estimated that each underground station will cost 20–25 percent more. Thus, bomb-proofing all 90 of Ukraine’s major substations will require more than $3 billion, according to Kasich.
Alexander Kharchenko, the director of Ukraine’s Energy Research Center, said that only the main substations will be moved underground, not all 90. Moving a station underground, he said, requires digging a pit, waterproofing it, and equipping the site with a ventilation system so the high-voltage equipment can operate properly. Substation equipment can be as tall as 15 meters (about 50 feet), so each bunker will have to be tall enough to accommodate structures of that size as well as to withstand missile strikes from above.
According to Kharchenko, the first two underground stations under the pilot program may be completed by the 2023–2024 heating season, but the full overhaul of the energy system will require at least 3–5 years. An official from the energy sector who spoke to Forbes said that “right now, our task is to build two protected substations as quickly as possible.”