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The effects of war in Ukraine: building bomb shelters instead of better roads

16 January 2024

Ukraine has had to focus on survival rather than progress, explains Eric Burgess, senior project manager at Arc Partnership.

The effects of war in Ukraine: building bomb shelters instead of better roads
The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam unleashed a flood. Image credit: Shutterstock

Ukraine’s Dnieper River runs straight down the centre of the country, flowing through the capital, Kyiv, and eventually out into the Black Sea.

The fourth longest river in Europe at 2,200km long, it’s vital to the economy and ecology of Ukraine. Much like other rivers, such as the Dniester, the Southern Buh and the Danube.

It’s also a wonderful place to spend an afternoon with friends. Whether it’s swimming, fishing, or sitting on the many beaches eating shashlik and watching the sun disappear over the reed-filled horizon.

Anyone who’s stood on its banks, or its many bridges, is fortunate, in any season, to see this great river flow, bringing life and character to the region.

And what life there is!

Ukraine’s energy


All this free-flowing water means that the country can benefit from hydroelectricity, including 10 power plants along the Dnipro and Dniester Rivers.

In terms of the overall power needs of the country, hydroelectricity provides 5%, but the government has backed plans to increase this to 15.5% by 2026.

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The mighty Dniper roars and bellows,

The wind in anger howls and raves,

Down to the ground it bends the willows,

And mountain-high lifts up the waves.

Prychynna by Taras Shevchenko

However, in June 2023, the Kakhovka Dam was destroyed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It was the last dam along the Dniepr.

Blowing up the dam’s 30-meter-high concrete walls resulted in 18 billion cubic meters of water pouring downstream, affecting the livelihoods of at least 17,600 Ukrainians.

This caused untold environmental destruction and potentially affects the cooling of the upstream Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).


The ZNPP has regularly been in the news due to numerous rocket and missile attacks, as well as interference from Russian military personnel.

The ZNPP is the largest nuclear power station in Europe, with an installed net capacity of 5700MW.

To compare, Hinkley Point C in England has a capacity of 3260 MW.

This adds some context when considering the huge potential for disaster that was narrowly avoided in June 2023 when the site suffered rocket and missile attacks.

The site has also suffered a number of major power outages to the cooling systems and had to rely on emergency diesel generators.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently stated that the site’s overall supply of off-site electricity remains fragile and vulnerable to further disruption.

The agency said its inspections of critical areas have been hampered by Russian military.

Nuclear provides 54% of Ukraine’s electricity production.

Renewables and energy efficiency

Renewables account for 4.6% of Ukraine’s energy. The country has been investing in renewables during the last 10 years.

Significant improvements in energy efficiency have been made, especially with regards to the coal-fired sector in the Donbass region.

Such efficiencies could well bring it in alignment with EU requirements.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has and will take its toll on these figures.

Especially so in the occupied areas in the Donetsk basin. Here, Russia has exported at least 160,000t of coal, equal to US$14.3 million of lost revenue along with other impacts of annexation.

Fossil fuels

The rest of Ukraine’s energy comes from oil and coal.

The country has large fossil gas reserves estimated at almost one trillion cubic metres – second only to Norway in Europe.

These lie onshore, mainly in the Dnieper-Donetsk basin, offshore under the Black Sea, and as shale gas in the Donetsk and Kharkiv oblasts (Yuzivska gasfield) and in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts.

These have all been the focus of the highest intensity of attacks.

Need for emergency repairs

It’s clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact on the energy sector.

Key infrastructure facilities are being targeted by Russian drone strikes and require repairs, rebuild, and emergency generators.

Access to such infrastructure is hampered by damaged roads and destroyed bridges.

This adds cost and time to emergency repairs, which, when you factor in harsh weather, makes life miserable and unnecessarily difficult for those without power.

Ukraine’s roads

Before the invasion, there was investment from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) to improve the nation’s notoriously poor road system.

Poor quality control and low availability of modern construction methods and good quality materials has affected the roads and much of the construction industry.

However, currently over 25,000km of state and local highways have been damaged and 344 bridges and overpasses destroyed.

Ukraine’s homes

According to the Kyiv School of Economics, the current damage to infrastructure is valued at US$151.2 billion, with US$55.9 billion being in the residential sector.

In total, 167,200 housing units have been destroyed or damaged as a result of hostilities, made up of 147,800 private houses, 19.1 thousand apartment buildings and 350 dormitories.

Adding to this is the incalculable cost of life and the suffering endured by a nation trying to defend itself.

An uphill journey

Since 1991, when Ukraine regained its independence, the country has been on an uphill journey to become a prosperous and unified nation with improved construction practices and further reliance on renewable energy.

The focus of the construction industry now is to ensure that there’s a Ukraine to rebuild.

Efforts are centred on projects such as:

  • bomb shelters in schools and for the wider public;
  • rebuilding bridges and highways;
  • maintaining energy supplies; and
  • ensuring the military has the infrastructure it needs to provide much needed support.

Hopefully the focus will change back to development and progress as soon as Ukraine can experience peace.

Slava Ukraina!

  • Eric Burgess, senior project manager at Arc Partnership