Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that a damaged transformer at a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, an industrial center, cut electrical power production for several days but did not pose any danger.
Authorities said the problem in a power-generating unit Friday resulted in an automatic shutdown in the system and that there was no safety risk. Dozens of cities and towns in eastern and southern Ukraine were temporarily without electricity during the weekend, however, aggravating the uneasy energy situation resulting from the armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk coal-mining regions.
Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchishin said the normal level of electricity production at the plant was expected to be restored by the weekend.
"Rest assured that there is no danger to the reactor," Demchishin said during a briefing in Kiev, the capital.
The root of the energy problem facing Ukraine is the lack of coal supplied across the country from the Donbass region, now largely controlled by separatists backed by Russia, said Volodymyr Omelchenko, director of the energy programs of Razumkov Center, a Kiev-based think tank.
"Since the armed conflict started in eastern Ukraine, the country has been constantly living with a serious, over 12% deficit of energy," Omelchenko said in a phone interview, adding that a solution might involve resuming energy cooperation with Russia.
"I know that Ukraine is negotiating purchasing coal from South Africa, the United States and Australia, but even then our seaports are currently incapable of accommodating the required volume of coal," Omelchenko said. "We will have to make a deal with Russia."
Demchishin said negotiations were underway for Ukraine to import energy from Russia.
"In the given situation, this step is necessary to balance the energy system, however complicated it could be politically," he said.
Meanwhile, residents of Ukraine's south and east have expressed concern about the lack of electricity.
"Now a majority of phone calls to our hotline are about the continuing power outage," Yehor Prokopchuk, head of the Center for Odessa Residents Protection, an Odessa-based nongovernmental organization, said in a phone interview about the situation in the Ukrainian Black Sea port. "People are worried; they are asking to at least be informed about the timetable of the outage."
To save energy, Ukraine has been limiting power and hot water supplies to the rest of the country since August.
Ukraine's Crimea region, annexed by Russia in March but still dependent on Ukraine for electricity and fresh water, has seen power supplies drastically limited as a result of the problem in Zaporizhia, Interfax-Ukraine reported.
Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev and Times staff writer Loiko from Moscow.