Direct Relief Donates More Than 2,000 Battery Systems to Ukrainian Hospitals Amid Energy Grid Attacks

Mar 5, 2024 12:01 AM ET
Power workers repair power lines in Ukraine in the snow.
Electricians conduct repair works on power line of fast tram after Russian missile attack on January 8, 2024 in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine. Due to the snowstorm in Kryvyi Rih, in particular, more than 15,000 subscribers were left without electricity. In addition, in the morning, Russian troops launched a rocket attack on the city, damaging houses and objects of civil infrastructure. (Photo by Viktor Fridshon/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

March 5, 2024 /3BL/ - In response to sustained attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid, Direct Relief is launching an expansive initiative to equip hospitals, emergency response hubs, and other key medical sites across Ukraine with backup electricity storage systems. The organization is purchasing and donating more than 2,000 battery systems, which are currently being installed across Ukraine to help ensure the continuation of crucial medical services and safeguard patient care against failures of the power grid.

"Every day, our medical facilities are subjected to targeted attacks by Russia,” said Viktor Liashko, Minister of Health of Ukraine. “Each such attack endangers the lives of patients. Ensuring uninterrupted medical care under any conditions and being prepared for different scenarios is our main task in the realities of war.”

Attacks on the power grid in the winter of 2022-23 destroyed 61% of Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity and left around 12 million people without power, according to the UNDP.

Without electrical power, hospitals can’t pump oxygen to keep patients breathing, warm newborn babies in incubators, diagnose injuries with X-rays, or track patient care through electronic medical records.

“We are working to ensure that hospitals are equipped with everything they need and can continue to operate in the event of emergency power outages or complete blackouts,” Liashko said. “In particular, Ukrainian medical institutions are now provided with more than 10,000 generators for uninterrupted power supply. They have also begun to equip medical facilities with alternative and environmentally friendly sources of electricity, including solar panels. The initial 300 [electricity] storage systems received from Direct Relief will strengthen medical institutions in 20 regions of Ukraine. I am grateful to our international partners for this assistance."

The war has inflicted an estimated $7.5 billion of direct damage on the electrical power sector, and has cost the sector $32 billion in lost revenue, according to the World Bank’s newly published damage and needs assessment.

The World Bank estimates it will cost $40.4 billion to rebuild Ukraine’s power sector over 10 years, using “a build back better approach with policies that align its energy model with the EU energy policy and move toward a decarbonized economy.” Of the $40.4 billion, $1.75 billion has been received.

"Ukraine has been using the [battery storage systems] since the first months of the full-scale war," said Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology Development at Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. “The systems provide backup power to hospitals, schools, emergency services and other critical infrastructure facilities. Thanks to our cooperation with Direct Relief, this year Ukraine will receive 2,000 devices as part of the Power for Health project. We continue to work on technological solutions for our country."

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was hit hard and relentlessly by artillery and air strikes in the opening stages of the full-scale war that began on February 24, 2022, and attacks have continued periodically over the past two years. The Kharkiv Regional Hospital serves the whole of the heavily war-damaged northeastern Kharkiv region, including its large population of internally displaced persons.

"But we never stopped working,” said Kostiantyn Loboiko, acting director of the hospital, which has 830 beds (including 130 in the maternity ward) and a staff of 2,000, including 550 doctors. “We also had births in the cellar, where we had some basic equipment."

The greatest damage to the hospital to date occurred during three waves of missile strikes on the city on Dec. 29, which killed three people and injured 13. Around 90 of the hospital's windows were blown out by a nearby impact, but only one person was injured at the site. "It was a miracle," said Loboiko. 

The hospital has been developing its capacity to function autonomously since Russia first seized Crimea and supported a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine in 2014. This meant equipping the hospital with generators and its own well to ensure a water supply.

Now it is further building its resilience by adding batteries for storing electricity, purchased and donated by the Polish Government and Direct Relief, in coordination with Kharkiv-based Charity Fund Yevhen Pyvovarov. The hospital also plans to install solar panels to ensure the units work more efficiently in all seasons.

So far, eight units have been delivered to the Kharkiv hospital, with another two to four units to be added. The hospital has allocated four of those units to essential units like the emergency department, including surgery, traumatological and maternity units, and the cardiological center.

"If the Russians want to harm us, there will be a moment when the light flickers” as the batteries cut in, “and then work will continue," said Loboiko.

In the town of Derhachi, five miles northwest of Kharkiv, two energy storage systems donated by the Polish government were installed last November at the local 100-bed hospital. These will give a further layer of energy security to the hospital, which like the Kharkiv Regional Hospital also uses generators in emergencies. "Now we can be sure that all operations will go ahead and that no patients are lost because of power outages," said head surgeon Oleg Donchak.

Direct Relief’s battery donations to Ukraine fall at the intersection of two important programs. Direct Relief’s Power for Health initiative seeks to bring clean, renewable backup power to health facilities to ensure they can deliver critical healthcare services during power outages. The initiative has provided energy solutions for 41 healthcare facilities in California, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, benefiting 1.3 million low-income patients. These projects have created an estimated $4.3 million in annual cost savings for the participating health facilities. Direct Relief has sponsored more than 100 power resiliency projects in 10 countries.

The donations are also part of Direct Relief’s extensive humanitarian medical aid program to the people of Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022, the largest aid response in the organization’s 75-year history. Direct Relief has donated and delivered more than 1,900 tons of medical aid, with a wholesale value of $1.1 billion, to support the efforts of health workers and community organizations. The organization has also provided more than $42 million in financial assistance to groups offering essential health services, including rehabilitation services for war-injured people, psychosocial and mental health services, support of emergency, specialized, and primary care, and support for making health care mobile as people continue to move throughout the country.

“This expansive philanthropic support from Direct Relief has been possible only because of the generous contributions from of thousands of individuals, businesses, and organizations concerned about the welfare of Ukrainian people and wishing to support humanitarian health efforts,” said Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe. “We are committed to continuing our support as expansively as we can and as resources permit.”

Ukraine and its partners have worked since the start of the war to make the country’s energy system more resilient.

“Over the spring and summer, power utilities – aided by significant grants, loans and investment from a wide range of governments, multilateral donors and the private sector – undertook the biggest energy infrastructure repair and maintenance campaign in the country’s history,” according to a January report published by the International Energy Agency. “The Ukrainian government also strengthened its air defence systems and invested in passive defence measures such as engineering fortifications to further protect energy infrastructure.”

Still, attacks on the electricity grid continue. “Tens of thousands of people were without power after a barrage of two dozen Russian drones damaged energy infrastructure in the centre of the country,” AFP reported on Feb. 2. At least 79 missiles and drones have hit residential areas of Kharkiv since Dec. 29.