Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb. 24, is taking a toll on the country's civilian infrastructure, with news reports and unverified video showing residential buildings and numerous other facilities damaged or occupied, and the nation’s construction sector halted.
Russian troops now occupy the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, the country's largest, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate confirmed on March 4, according to a CNN report, but a fire burning from shelling that hit an administrative building was extinguished, officials said, with one unit still providing power.
"The Ukraine regulatory authority said a fire at the site had not affected 'essential' equipment and plant personnel were taking mitigatory actions," said the International Atomic Energy Agency, an inspection arm of the United Nations. "There was no reported change in radiation levels at the plant." The agency also said nuclear waste storage sites in Kyiv and Kharkiv had been damaged by fighting but with no release of radioactivity..
In a March 3 tweet, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the U.S. "has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and is monitoring events in consultation with the White House. We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility."
But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on March 4 that he would seek an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council “in the coming hours” related to the nuclear site, according to the Washington Post, which also said cited officials' concern whether water pumps needed to cool reactors are fuctionng properly, and if the plant's grid connection and transmission lines are intact.
Half of the country's power supply comes from nuclear, with the Zaporizhzhia plant alone providing 25%.
Hits to Residential, Other Facilities
In other damage, Two large apartment structures in the capital of Kyiv were apparently hit by missiles that destroyed or damaged floors, said Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, despite a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that there would be “no strikes on civilian infrastructure.”
Russian shelling also damaged the main water supply line in Horlivka in the Donetsk region and a thermal power plant in the Luhansk region, according to emergency officials in wire reports.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said that a Russian missile was intercepted on Feb. 26 before it could strike the dam of the 356-sq-mi Kyiv Cistern, the city's main reservoir, said the Associated Press. But Russian troops were able to destroy a concrete dam that Ukraine had built in 2014 in the southern Kherson region to restrict water to Crimea before Russia was set to annex it, according to comments from the region's governor reported by Reuters.
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced country-wide martial law on Feb. 24, and curfews, telling residents in an address to "keep calm"and "stay at home if you can."
Most construction in Ukraine appears to have halted in the wake of Russia’s attack, with local workers not in offices or on jobsites. and most foreign staff having exited the country, according to an official of one contractor with operations there.
1 Million Have Fled
As many as 1 million Ukrainians have fled the country as of March 4, according to reports, with the civilian death toll at 352 people and 1,684 wounded, state oficials said, but higher totals reported by media were not verified.
Service was suspended on Kyiv’s subway system, with stations serving as 24/7 shelters, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Twitter.
In efforts to slow the Russian advance on Kyiv, Ukrainian military destroyed a number of key crossings. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said its assault troops blew up a bridge over the Teteriv River at Ivankiv, 30 miles north of Kyiv, and one in the province of Kherson that had connected Russian-occupied Crimea and mainland Ukraine. The latter explosion killed a Ukrainian Marine battalion engineer.
Baturay Konak, chief operations officer of Turkey-based contractor Onur Group, which has operations based in Lviv in western Ukraine and has worked in country since 2004, told ENR that fighting in the vicinity of the city of Zaporizhzhia, about 350 miles southeast of Kyiv, has not damaged a newly completed cable-stayed bridge there on which the firm was a major contractor.
Despite a long delay in construction from funding shortfalls and political battles, the 166-m-tall bridge now is the tallest in Ukraine and is considered a strong symbol of national progress by President Zelensky, who dedicated its opening on Jan. 22. At an estimated cost of $480 million, the 9-km crossing connects the city’s 750,000 residents across the Dnipro River for the first time.
Konak says none of Onur Group’s other projects in Ukraine have been damaged, including one estimated at $210 million begun last year to build a 3.2-km airfield at the airport in Dnipro, roughly 240 miles southeast of Kyiv and the country’s fourth largest city.
According to Konak, the firm’s jobsites have been secured by the Ukrainian military, with barriers and obstacles placed at site entrances. He says that based on communications with local staff, most other contractors in the country “are waiting and not working.”
Spokespersons for Bechtel and for Turkey-based contractor ENKA, which reported work in Ukraine in ENR top list filings last year, told ENR that they have no current operations in country. Bechtel also said it has no current work in Russia, but Enka said its operations there "continue without interruption."
In a website update in January, ENKA said that as of Dec. 31, overall progress of work on the 250-MW Kazan combined cycle power plant in Tatarstan, Russia—including design, procurement and construction in joint venture with Siemens—is at 41%, with about 30% of construction completed. Enka said there were 712 employees at the project site. The project contract is with PJSC Kazanorgsintez, one of Russia’s largest chemical companies.
But the Russian incursion could impact Israel’s construction sector, since the country imports much of its building material supply from Ukraine, including $175 million of iron and steel in 2018, according to the Jerusalem Post in a Feb. 24 report. Israel also outsources a significant chunk of its high-tech work there, as Ukraine serves as a low-cost center with a skilled workforce.
Chernobyl Also Occupied
Meanwhile, Russian troops that are believed to have entered Ukraine from Belarus, a Russia ally, captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and exclusion zone around it, about 130 miles north of Kyiv, Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said in a February 24 news briefing to media that was reported by Reuters.
The plant, which suffered a meltdown in what was the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, has had its damaged reactor encased in a protective shelter since 2018 to prevent radiation leaks. Ukraine officials said on Feb. 25 that the site had recorded increased radiation levels, which was due to military activity that stirred up radioactive dust in the area, but IAEA said there was no public risk.
But IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Msrch 2 that Chernobyl employees were facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion.”
Ukrainian energy firm Naftogas said on Feb. 24 that the country's energy infrastructure, including oil and natural gas pipelines, has not been targeted for systematic shelling and is operating, Reuters reported. But on Feb. 26, Russian military blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, Zelensky's office announced. Naftogas is evacuating employees from high-risk facilities near front lines.
Ukraine’s gas supply system is integrated into in-country transit gas pipelines that are used to ship supply from Russia to Europe.
The future of the estimated $11-billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline—the 1,234-km line from St Petersburg, Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany that was completed last year but is not yet operating—now is under global speculation of cancellation because of the attack.
Germany has halted its certification amid sanctions imposed on Russia by western countries.
Nord Stream 2 AG, a Switzerland-based company owned by Russian energy firm Gazprom that operates the gas pipeline project, had no comment on potential sanctions. The Russian government owns more than half of the firm's shares, according to The Wall Street Journal. The pipeline had been planned to double Russian gas exports to Germany.
The firm said March 1 it has terminated employees due to the sanctions, with reports that it may file for bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, more global financial institutions, sovereign funds and energy giants announced intentions to divest billions in Russian assets and investments and exit projects.
Exxon Mobil Corp. said March 1 it would withdraw from the Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project on the far eastern Sakhalin Isand in which it had a 30% share, which had been one of the largest "international direct investments" in Russia, its website stated. Japan and India also are investors.
Shell said it would separate from ventures with Gazprom, which include covering 10% of the cost of Nord Stream 2. The move follows a similar one by BP, announced on Feb. 27, to sell off its $14-billion investment in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Norwegian energy firm Equinor and the national sovereign fund announced similarly, as did corporations that include UPS, Daimler Truck and FedEx.