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As the weather gets colder, Russian forces have targeted Ukraine's energy supply

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Winter in Ukraine is freezing. And as summer turns to fall, Russian forces have targeted Ukraine's energy supply. The largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine has been under Russian occupation for months. And right now, it isn't generating electricity for safety reasons. Russian shelling recently hit power and heating plants in several parts of Ukraine, including a missile attack near a different nuclear power plant, and many of Ukraine's coal mines in the east are under Russian control. All of this is in the portfolio of Ukraine's energy minister. German Galushchenko is in Pittsburgh right now for a clean energy conference, and that's where we have reached him. Minister Galushchenko, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GERMAN GALUSHCHENKO: Hello, sir.

SHAPIRO: To begin with the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency has visited, the U.N. has issued its report, yet last night there was another attack on the plant. What's the current situation there?

GALUSHCHENKO: Yeah. You are right. This night it was another attack on the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Russia destroyed the line which supplied electricity for our own use, and it makes to the result that the diesel generator stopped working for the sixth unit. And due to our staff, they managed to reconnect the sixth unit to the other units, and now the situation looks more safe.

SHAPIRO: More safe for now - but long-term, is Ukraine going to be able to produce nuclear energy to get you through the winter?

GALUSHCHENKO: Of course, we are raising this issue of demilitarization of the nuclear stations. Especially, we are talking about Zaporizhzhia because, until the Russian soldiers are on this side, that is the great danger.

SHAPIRO: And if Russia does not stop shelling, what is Ukraine doing to plan for what could be a very cold winter?

GALUSHCHENKO: Of course, we are looking for the possibilities to substitute this electricity in the system, but we have another three nuclear station in our system, and they could provide electricity with the necessary level. By the way, two days ago, the Russians shelled another one - station, which is South Ukrainian NPP. And of course, we want to see the - our army is going ahead now, especially on the South. And that has just help us to settle the issue of returning back to Ukraine the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

SHAPIRO: Given that there are these ongoing attacks on and near energy facilities, do you think Russia is actively trying to attack your energy grid and freeze people out?

GALUSHCHENKO: Yeah. That's true. That's true. That's what we see, and on September 11, it was massive attack on energy infrastructure. So they destroyed a number of facilities, and thousands of Ukrainian were cut from supply of electricity, and it looks like that is the strategy. I mean, that is, of course, not something similar to the war action. That's more close to the terrorism.

SHAPIRO: The last six months have left many people with no glass in their windows. Windows have been bombed out all across Ukraine. And so as the temperatures drop below freezing and energy supplies are limited, how can you prevent people from dying of the cold?

GALUSHCHENKO: Of course we will do everything to provide the necessary electricity from the point of view of electricity and from the point of view of gas supply. The one - the most dangerous issue and the most risky issue for us, of course - that is the shellings. In case of the shellings, so we need to repair quickly. And when they shell massively, of course, that takes time.

SHAPIRO: If the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant is offline, if coal mines in the East are in control of Russia, how do you have the energy stockpiles to get through the winter?

GALUSHCHENKO: In fact - so we know how to substitute, in this situation, the Zaporizhzhia NPP in our energy. And so the mines which we lost in the east - they are not critical for production of the coal, and so today we understand how to manage to go through the winter.

SHAPIRO: What is your biggest worry right now about the security of Ukraine's energy grid?

GALUSHCHENKO: One of the biggest worry is, of course, the nuclear station. And that is - I mean, that is not now only the question of possibility of the station to supply electricity to Ukrainian energy system. That is more, now, the situation when - what I mentioned, that the - when the diesels start operation. So this is more the question of nuclear safety. And in case - I mean, all this Russian crazy actions around Zaporizhzhia could have the results of a nuclear accident, and that's the situation when that would be not only Ukrainian problem.

SHAPIRO: As I mentioned, you are at a clean energy conference in Pittsburgh. With everything else that is raining down upon Ukraine right now, tell me about your decision to take time to come to the United States and focus on renewable energy.

GALUSHCHENKO: That's a very important issue to raise. I mean, that - all this dependence, let's say, to Russian energy, especially - that's not only the case of Ukraine, but this is the issue for Europe, and, of course, there's Russia aimed to make Europe addicted to its energy. And the best solution to get rid of Russians on the energy sector is to move to renewables. And that is the solution.

SHAPIRO: German Galushchenko is Ukraine's minister of energy speaking with us from Pittsburgh today. Thank you very much.

GALUSHCHENKO: Thank you, sir.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.