Europe

Crimea power blackout hits economy as workers stay home

Dark street in central Simferopol, 22 Nov 15 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Crimea's capital Simferopol was plunged into darkness

Only essential services and government offices are operating in Crimea after key electricity pylons connected to the peninsula were knocked down in Ukraine, causing a major blackout.

Most of Crimea's two million people have been hit by the power cut. There are also some water shortages.

Anti-Russian activists were blamed for the cut. Russian forces annexed Crimea in March 2014, during Ukraine's crisis.

Public transport is still running and Crimean hospitals are using generators.

A state of emergency was imposed in Crimea on Sunday after two more key pylons were damaged - bringing the total to four. Monday was declared a non-working day.

It is still not clear how exactly the pylons were damaged in Kherson, a Ukrainian region adjacent to Crimea. That region has been tense since Russia's annexation of Crimea - an act that was condemned internationally.

Crimean Tatar activists, denying repair workers access to the damaged power lines, suggested that the weakened pylons were blown down by the wind.

But Ukraine's state energy company, Ukrenergo, said the damage was caused by "shelling or the use of explosive devices".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A Tatar symbol was tied around a damaged pylon in Kherson

Russia has blamed Ukrainian nationalists from far-right party Right Sector as well as Crimean Tatar activists, calling it "an act of terrorism".

Earlier this year those activist groups prevented food lorries crossing into Crimea.

The blackout has knocked out street lighting and cut cable and mobile internet. It has also forced the closure of some 150 schools.

A Crimean Tatar activist told Ukraine's TV news broadcaster 112 Ukrayina that Russia must release "political prisoners" and let their leader Mustafa Dzhemilev return to Crimea in exchange for repairs to the power lines.

But later Mr Dzhemilev, leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, told BBC Ukrainian that his supporters would grant repair workers access to the power lines. "I think that Crimea will have electricity soon", he said.

Emergency timetable

Crimean Tatar activists accuse Russia of abusing Tatar rights and denying them a voice since a pro-Moscow government was installed in Crimea.

Images on social media show Ukrainian flags on some damaged pylons - and Crimean Tatar flags on others.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption An electrical shop in Simferopol is among many businesses temporarily shut down by the emergency

Crimean authorities said they had managed to partially reconnect the cities of Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol using generators.

Only 30% of Crimea's electricity is generated locally - the rest comes from Ukraine, Russia's government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.

Emergency power-saving measures have been imposed: Sevastopol is getting three hours' supply, followed by a six-hour cut; in Simferopol residents have three-hour power cuts three times a day.

Ukrainian authorities said they encountered activists blockading the site when they tried to repair the damaged pylons.

The power cut is threatening food outlets which rely on cold storage and lack generating capacity.

A hospital worker said the electricity was sufficient to keep wards warm but not to power hot plates, so patients were only getting cold food.

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