The Current

During Ukraine's rolling blackouts, candles and 'faith in ourselves' become latest weapons

Russian attacks have damaged large swaths of Ukraine’s electricity grid, leaving people without reliable power, light and heating. Matt Galloway talks to Ukrainians dealing with these blackouts, with a determination that life continues.

Russian attacks have damaged large swaths of Ukraine’s electricity grid

People sit in a pub lit with candles during a power outage in Lviv, Ukraine, on Nov. 24. (Roman Baluk/Reuters)

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Amid rolling blackouts across Ukraine, Dr. Roman Moraru-Burleku is determined to keep performing the surgeries that his patients need, even as Russian attacks disrupt the hospital's electricity.

"We can do, and we must do all of our operations every day ... we do it now no matter what," said Moraru-Burleku, a doctor of oncology and transplantology in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine.

"If we stop our battle tomorrow, we don't have our country."

Russia has targeted Ukraine's electrical grid in recent weeks, resulting in intermittent blackouts across the country. People have been left without power for days at a time, plunging the population into the dark and cold of winter.

Lviv's city centre is shown without electricity on Nov. 15, after critical civil infrastructure was hit by a Russian missile attack. (Vladyslav Musiienko/Reuters)

At the Cherkasy hospital this week, the lights went out right as two patients were being wheeled into the operating theatre, about to receive kidney transplants. 

"We have two patients and two organs outside the human body," Moraru-Burleku said. "This is a very risky situation. But we can't stop, and we didn't stop."

Generators kicked in and the operations were completed successfully. Both patients are set to return home on Monday, with new kidneys and no further need for dialysis treatment. 

But Moraru-Burleku estimates they have only two weeks of fuel left to run those generators, and he's unsure what will happen after that.

For him, the hardest part of the blackouts is not being able to stay in touch with his wife and children.

"We can't connect, we don't have internet. I don't know where they are, what are they doing, if they're even safe or not when we have Russian attacks," he said.

WATCH | Surgeons perform heart surgery during blackout in Kyiv: 

Surgeons perform heart surgery during blackout in Kyiv

2 months ago
Duration 0:44
Doctors at the Kyiv Heart Institute were performing heart surgery on a teenage patient Wednesday when the power went out, so they continued operating by the light of their phones and headlamps.

Support for disabled Ukrainians

The blackouts are also posing serious challenges for people with disabilities, said Yuliia Sachuk, head of Fight for Right, an organization supporting Ukrainians with disabilities.

Like the doctor and his family, a lack of power means disabled Ukrainians can't contact loved ones or support networks to ask for help if they need it. There's also no way to charge or run assistive technologies, like screen readers for blind people, which offer news and information in an accessible format.

"For people with physical disabilities, it's not possible to use elevators. It's not possible to recharge the batteries if you use, for example, electric wheelchairs," Sachuk said.

Her organization has launched a project to help disabled people during winter, connecting them with volunteers who can drop off food and other necessities. They are also setting up accessible centres where people can shelter or access generators to charge assistive technology.

It's exhausting, 24/7 work, Sachuk said.

"It's not easy, but ... we are confident in our victory, and we are doing what we can do in our own front line, helping those with disabilities in Ukraine."

People shop for shoes using the lights on their cellphones, in Kyiv on Nov. 26. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Kids deserve Christmas: author

At this stage of the war, Ukraine's "weapons are power banks, candles, generators ... and actually, the faith in ourselves," says Iuliia Mendel, author of The Fight of Our Lives and former spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

People are starting to think about the upcoming holiday season, with some wondering if it's even right to celebrate Christmas this year, she said.

"For many people, this is a big thing: Are we going to celebrate? Is that actually appropriate to celebrate?" Mendel said.

"But then we see the soldiers who say, 'Our kids, they deserve to have the Christmas tree.'"

She said the holiday season might not have big public gatherings or even enough power for public Christmas lights, but at the same time "people want to celebrate life."

"This is very important when there is this death threat, when there are so many things which showed threat to our very existence," she said.

"We appreciate every moment of normal life because ... we do not know if the future is going to be for every person who stays alive right now."

Audio produced by Ben Jamieson.

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