Electric War Goes West – Depopulation Turns Into Displacement Turns Into Civil War in Galicia

Yves here. John Helmer continues to describe how the Russian prosecution of the conflict, and in particular its focus on degrading and selectively destroying electrical supply, is central to what comes soon. As we show in the upcoming Links for today, and YouTubers like Dima at Military Summary, Alexander Mercouris and Alex Christoforu have described in their latest programs, civilians are fleeing Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, due to the lack of power and doubt the lights will go back on any time soon.

As Helmer pointed out in a post we ran yesterday, the West is not prepared for this approach. They are still thinking in terms of Ukraine potentially building fortified lines, which will become irrelevant with Russia already striking all over Ukraine, and the lack of power making military operations well-nigh impossible. How do recharge communications devices? Or operate radars? How about hospitals for treating the wounded? My understanding is most commercial gas stations rely on electricity; only a small proportion have backup generators, which are good only as long as they have fuel to keep them going. I would assume a similar picture exists for military fuel supplies (with presumably more prevalent and bigger generators).

Helmer goes on to say that Russia will keep pushing civilian populations westward with its de-electrification, which would simplify capturing major cities (fewer civilians = more freedom of operation). The resulting movement of refugees into western Ukraine and potentially bordering states will be destabilizing. The Russians see that as a feature, not a bug.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

Go West, young man – that American slogan of the mid-19th century  is not an idea the Ukrainian men of Odessa,  Kharkov, Dniepropetrovsk, Poltava and Sumy can contemplate today as long as the danger of press ganging into the army in Kiev and Lvov is a higher risk to their lives than staying put in the eastern cities as they collapse.

They must calculate that they are better off trying to do without electricity in the east, and wait for the Kremlin to suspend the campaign – as it did during 2023 – or for the Russian General Staff to pressure the Novorussian cities to surrender to Russian control, when the Ukrainian men will be filtered but keep their lives.

The women and children, however, are evacuating from Sumy and Kharkov.*   The displacement of these easterners to the west, from Kiev to Lvov, is not yet being reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which publishes its Ukrainian population movement data in the third week of each month.

At the end of December, the total number of internal refugees or internally displaced persons (IDP) in the bureaucratic records, was 3.7 million. This number is increasing sharply now, but the UNCHR reports are lagging by four weeks, and there are no reliable real-time figures available.

The Polish Border Guard, however, is reporting every two days the movement of Ukrainians into Poland and their reverse movement from Poland into the Ukraine. A surge out of the Ukraine, like that of the first months of the Special Military Operation in 2022, is not yet visible in the Polish data.

In the Border Guard twitter reports for the month of March, there were big surges on March 1-3, March 8-10, March 18-19, March 22-24, and March 29-April 1. The timing reflects the weekends, and the flows out of the Ukraine into Poland were equally balanced by the numbers returning. That is, until March 22-24 when the electric war began in earnest, and 82,000 Ukrainians crossed into Poland, while only 72,900 returned. Over the Catholic Easter weekend of March 29-April 1, 108,000 moved into Poland; only 82,100 came back.

The difference of 26,000 were not Easter pilgrims or holidaymakers. This the largest recorded at the Polish-Ukrainian border since 2022  – it is the beginning of a new Ukrainian surge out of the country into Europe.

Sources in Warsaw say there is “attention fatigue” towards the refugees on the part of the Poles. “There is nothing new in the local media on the flows of Ukrainians. No longer topic of interest.  The new Polish government plans allegedly to tighten financial rules for Ukrainian refugees in order to cut welfare costs and combat “the pathologies that currently exist.”

The Polish press reported late last week that “the most important change concerns the financing of refugees’ stay. The government intends to abolish the system that currently subsidizes the stay of refugees from Ukraine (PLN 40 [$10] per day per person) in small guesthouses where up to ten people live. Revolutionary changes for newcomers from Ukraine, especially those who benefit from free food and accommodation, are to be included in the draft amendment to the special act, which came into force two years ago.”

Moscow sources believe the operational plan of the General Staff, agreed by the Kremlin since last month’s election, is to depopulate Kharkov and the surrounding region north to Sumy, and press equally hard  in the centre (Dniepropetrovsk) and the south (Odessa). For maps of the campaign so far, click.

According to a Moscow source, debate over operational priorities in the political and military strategy is muted. “This time round,” the source believes, “the General Staff aims not to suspend the attacks, not to relieve the pace, so that the Ukrainian utilities cannot repair or restore power supplies — no repeat of the first phase of the electric war which stopped at the end of 2022.”

For the first phase of the electric war in 2022, read this.

A western military source thinks the impact in the west, especially in the western region of Galicia around Lvov which is the historic centre of Ukrainian fascism, will be chaotic and violent between the established, well-off westerners and the incoming poorer easterners. “Another mass in-migration to Kiev and west won’t go over well when rent extortion meets fuel shortages  high power tariffs, fuel shortages, outrageous grocery prices, then even wilder power tariffs in the midst of outages. This is when ‘the master race’ will forget all their ‘European civilization’ slogans, and start killing each other over a litre of gasoline. Is Russian intelligence factoring this into their strategy? Sure.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCR) publishes regular data updates on the movement of Ukrainians within the country, moving westward from the line of contact, and the exodus of Ukrainians across the Polish, Slovakian, Moldovan, and Romanian borders.


As of last month, the Ukrainian refugee flows over the borders look like this, with Russia topping the list of destination countries, followed by Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Moldova.

Source: https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine -- flash updates are published monthly at the mid-month

Charting the Ukrainian population movements over time, this is the picture, with UNCHR commentary.

Source: https://data.unhcr.org/
According to data published by EUROSTAT, between January and December 2023, over 1,032,000 Ukrainians were granted Temporary Protection (TP) in the European Union area.  While this number was lower than in 2022, decisions granting temporary protection were l averaging more than 87,000 per month in the European states through the end of 2023, although on a decreasing trend.   

The shift of Russian operational priorities and tactics on the five main directions along the line of contact (Kupyansk, Donetsk, Avdeyevka, South Donetsk, and Kherson), the Battle of Bakhmut, and the clearing of the four new Donbass regions (Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporozhye), relieved the pressure on the electricity-generating plants and the power grid during 2023.  This in turn cut the internal and cross-border population flows.

In real time the best indicator of Ukrainian population movements is the daily Twitter stream of the Polish Border Guard (Straż Graniczna, SG).   Here is the tabulation of SG reports for the month of March. The surge over the Easter weekend reveals the largest “gap” between outgoing and incoming movements since the first phase of the electric war in October 2022.


Source https://twitter.com/Straz_Graniczna 

An unofficial Moscow source comments: “For the time being, the campaign is likely to leave enough lights on in Lvov to lure the displaced easterners there, and generate all sorts of communal friction. The westward process will repeat itself until Lvov and other border areas are huge refugee camps facing a bunch of nervous Poles, Romanians, Moldovans, etc. We’ll see what happens to Euro solidarity then.”

[*] In a videoclip Boris Rozhin republished yesterday morning (April 2), evacuating residents of Kharkov can be seen stalled in a traffic jam on three lanes while some drivers are so desperate to escape they are driving on the reverse-direction side of the highway.  

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  1. Guy Liston

    Librarian, try again. I read Helmer’s ‘Dances with Bears’ yesterday and I have to use a VPN considering where I live, Mike Liston

    1. JBird4049

      I use VPNs and find that certain programs and stories mysteriously have issues including or especially when the location set is in the continental or the lower forty-eight states. However, the issues go away when set for places like Japan or Brazil. Since I live the freedom loving, first amendment supporting San Francisco Bay Area, and I have internet issues with VPNs set for cities in states such as ultra “liberal” California that I usually do not have elsewhere… I have been reading about the Great Firewall of China. Are we about to have the Great Firewall of America?

      And do not think that writing letters are any guarantee of privacy or information as the USPS tracks all mail, which includes taking an image or photo of it, and I can have a photo of my day’s mail delivery to make sure that the mailbox thieves have not again stolen my mail.

      I am sure that the Comstock Act can be revived

  2. The Rev Kev

    As I said in a previous comment, I am sure that the Russians have stockpiled plenty of electrical gear to replace what they have destroyed so after they take a region, they will be able to bring back the power pretty quick. Those regions under the control of the Zelensky regime will be left spinning in the wind and I wonder if they will take out the power supply of Galicia in the end. And will they take out the power for Kiev as well? Judging by the cars fleeing Kharkov, I would guess that these people are regime loyalist who have no desire to live under the Russian Federation over time but that is OK as all those Russian loyalists that fled this city some time ago will be eventually able to return to their city. But one way or another, there will be huge shifts of population both within and without the Ukraine. But any new Ukrainian refugees may find that the welcome wagon is no longer there for them, especially if the Ukraine collapses.

    1. The Heretic

      After WW2, the allies (I believe primarily the Soviets) enacted huge population transfers of ethnic Germans out of various countries of the Warsaw pact; the Sudetenland Germans being a prime example. This in part stabilizes the political economy of the local nation, and helps mitigate any aspiration of a future Germany to unite with other German population. I cannot comment on if the method of transfer was humane or brutal.

      I predict that what the Russians will do the Ukrainians will be population transfer by various means, across many regions, to create a physically isolated Ukraine that could never receive shipment of Western arms either by air, land or sea. It could be done humanely if Ukraine surrendered or and cooperated; or other methods can be used.

        1. The Unabiker

          Is it ethnic cleansing if the “cleansed” are removed, or self-motivated to depart from a region in which they are non-nationals, and to the region in which they are? If they are the kin of the country that invaded the other, and inflicted enormous suffering upon? I think those times were pretty raw yet from the previous years of the German invasions.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            By nationals do you mean citizens (nationality as used in passports) or members of the ethnic majority? In any case, they were nationals in both senses in East Prussia, before East Prussia was arbitrarily reassigned to other countries. I would add that they lived in all of those places for centuries. They had as much right to live there as the other natives.

            “If they are the kin of the country that invaded the other, and inflicted enormous suffering upon?”

            Yes. Why would that matter when it comes to defining ethnic cleansing? It helps explain why so many people supported it, but that’s all.

      1. Kfish

        The ‘method of transfer’ was mostly civilians walking out in fear of their lives. Between 1/2 million and 2 million Sudentenland Germans went ‘missing’ during this ‘transfer’. Source: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WW2 by Keith Lowe.

      2. Polar Socialist

        Soviets couldn’t have cared less where some ethnic Germans lived (there were about 2 million living in Soviet Union before the war). It was mostly the other eastern European countries that had large German populations since the medieval times and who had been backstabbed by the western Europe in Munich, occupied and enslaved by Germany and liberated by the Red Army that had serious anger management issues in the late 1940’s.

        Of course, in the modern history books it’s all Russia’s fault.

        1. JBird4049

          Still means that roughly one million women, children, and old men died and were often left in unmarked graves, if they were buried at all, which is a reason calculating good numbers are impossible. Much like in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki where much of the dead were in mass graves or in ashes.

          People are quite good at justifying their own or others evil.

          1. Polar Socialist

            I wasn’t justifying anything. I’m merely pointing out that it was as much the Czech, Polish, Danes and Germans themselves who killed or caused the death of all those people. France refused categorically to let any of them to their zone of occupation.

            For all I know, the best researched number, 480,000, it’s still about half a million too many. And yet I believe stating why the contemporaries might have felt those people should die is not condoning the deed in any way or form.

            For what it’s worth, my maternal great-grandmother lies in an unmarked grave in the modern day Russia. It was a proper burial, but my family just didn’t have time to mark the grave. I’ve been there looking for the location with my grandmother’s cousin (before she passed away), but places just didn’t look the same anymore…

        2. Daniil Adamov

          We did relocate Germans from the Kaliningrad oblast’ and Poles from Ukraine. Removals of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia were a consensus Allied policy eagerly picked up by local national governments. It’s fair to say that the Allies did this, though, and that this was mostly done in areas of Soviet control.

          Re: anger management issues, I was surprised to read (in a book by a Western historian, no less; though enough time has passed that I don’t quite remember which one), that the Red Army often protected Germans from reprisals by civilians in Czechoslovakia.

        3. Robert Gray

          > Of course, in the modern history books it’s all Russia’s fault.

          A classic example of ‘the winners write the history’.

          For those who have the stomach for this topic, I highly recommend R. M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (2012). The title is sardonic because the activities and events he chronicles were anything but. And he shines a very harsh light indeed on the UK and US, both of which facilitated and to some extent actually carried out this very real ethnic cleansing.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            Have such operations ever been orderly or humane? On paper, maybe; sometimes that was even intended; but I’m not sure it’s possible. People seem to really dislike it for some reason, while others, who are charged with carrying it out, don’t take well to resistance even when there isn’t a fresh history of hatred (as there usually is).

        4. hk

          Accounts by the Sudetens I came across point to the Czechs as the more vicious “ethnic cleansers” (and the same with Koreans vis a vis the Japanese in Korea, esp in the North). In both cases, the Red Army mostly stood by and watched. But, decades later, the Czechs and Koreans didn’t do anything wrong: it was only the Russians.

  3. Benny Profane

    I recently went to Google maps and they showed me a lot of pictures of Kharkov. It would be a crying shame if that beautiful city was destroyed, but won’t be the first time.

  4. Bill R

    God. All this death and destruction is so unnecessary. If the US had not overthrown the elected government of Ukraine in 2014 and had kept their own promises to Russia since 1991. The US has occupied Britain and the rest of Western Europe since the 1940s and they want the rest for their empire or will destroy it.

    1. i just don't like the gravy

      All this destruction will produce a lot of CO2 and other harmful gases! I want a WARM apocalypse thank you very much!

      1. Paul Art

        And he never helped Italy after WWII when the Americans were furiously subverting the Unions and the elections which were about to return Communists to power.

  5. Ignacio

    In the realm of military affairs I wonder whether the Russian army will try to find and destroy military generators (i guess most diesel engines) to make it difficult for the Ukrainian army to coordinate and to load their tablets and drones. I am not certain if satellite imaging or airplane imaging can help on this or if it is too coarse for small generators.

    1. digi_owl

      Those generators will likely stand out like sore thumbs on any heat camera flying

      And if Russia wants to be really effective, they can let them run for a while and watch the surrounding traffic. And then hit them when a large numbers of soldiers are gathered nearby.

  6. .Tom

    What would happen if a Russian-speaking person in Kharkiv were to try to flee eastwards to an RF-administered town? I mean, what are the practicalities of this? Would you have to first navigate through areas where AFU is operating and preventing civilians from entering? And if you could deal with that, how would you present yourself to the Russians?

    1. Daniil Adamov

      I have family friends who came from there originally. Their relatives still lived there, but I think they already evacuated further west. Best of luck to yours.

  7. Feral Finster

    “Sources in Warsaw say there is “attention fatigue” towards the refugees on the part of the Poles. “There is nothing new in the local media on the flows of Ukrainians. No longer topic of interest. The new Polish government plans allegedly to tighten financial rules for Ukrainian refugees in order to cut welfare costs and combat ‘the pathologies that currently exist.’”

    Poland wants Ukrainians to stay on the Ukrainian side of the border where they can better fulfill their function of being sponges to soak up Russian munitions.

  8. Paul Damascene

    During last year’s electric war, I had the sense that the Russians weren’t doing what they are doing now precisely because they didn’t want a humanitarian / refugee crisis:

    1. to avoid giving the West a stronger pretext for a humanitarian Coalition of the Willing. So then I ask myself: Does Moscow no longer care?

    2. to avoid the Global-South perception management strain. But Israel’s fresh daily installments of hell-on-earth gives Russia much more room to maneuver in that respect.

    3. to support UKR’s current mindless campaign of sending all available men & resources for convenient destruction in the SE. A real or feared acceleration of the conflict across the entire East risks triggering a change of tactics currently very congenial to Russia.

    Further, I don’t really see how halving the civilian population in Kharkov greatly simplifies the challenge of attacking it for Russia. A half-empty building is still not one they will want to level. Moreover, those civilians who *stay* are most likely to be pro-Russia.

    To the extent that I can make sense of the Electric War 2.0, I would see it directed against Europe–increasing the costs to European societies just as the EU/NATO are trying to increase the cost of the war through supporting attacks on Russian infrastructure. Costs including:
    * increased refugee flows, and arrivals of ever poorer refugees
    * loss of electricity imports from UKR, and now forcing electricity exports *to* Ukraine
    * destruction of gas storage infrastructure, including UKR’s storage of Europe’s gas
    * waking West’s war profiteers to the destruction of their investment in a post-War UKR
    * increased embarrassment to the West (Biden) for the ever more evident destruction of the UKR they are unable to protect

    Even so, I can’t easily see this new campaign as massively beneficial to Russia. Not massively harmful either but it doesn’t seem like a strategic master stroke.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have a key assumption wrong. When Gonzalo Lira was alive, as in before he was arrested by the SBU, he lived in Kharkiv. He reported then the city was 80-90% depopulated. It was subject to shelling even then, but not on huge scale.

      So the current exodus means pretty much all the civilians are gone.

      And Russia has been clearing the Ukraine controlled areas of Donbass since the start of the SMO. This is a fairly densely populated area despite not having large cities. It’s full of mid-sized cities and towns just a few kilometers apart.

      Millions already fled to Europe and the UK, so it’s not as if the refugee flight is a new phenomenon.

      And you can see the Kharkiv exodus is not being reported in the Western press. It would be more evidence of Ukraine’s defeat. If it’s not part of the narrative, it does not exist here.

      1. AG

        re: clearing the Ukraine controlled areas + Kharkiv and bigger cities in the future (with the intention to cause refugee crisis)

        Is there any aspect of intern. law, rules of conduct of war that is applicable here, as to not make the RU strategy possibly a form of war crime?

        Alex Mercouris correctly points out regularly that the RU are extremely legalistic. But what are the rules here?

        * * *

        In terms of realities Ukraine for the Western public is 99% a dark hole.

        It´s like those morons in the media and the parliament were talking about “Barbie” film schedules while everything around them is burning.

        Reminds me of a “Fahrenheit 451” kind of scenario where people sitting in the same room are turning to the screen to talk to each other. We have reached that level of insanity.

        On that note, THE INDEPENDENT with an interview about UKR plans for domestic tourism:

        “Ukraine starts planning for post-war tourism: ‘We welcome our guests if they don’t come with guns’
        Exclusive: ‘We know how to act from the moment when Ukrainian borders and Ukrainian skies open again’ – tourism boss Mariana Oleskiv”

        1. The Unabiker

          “Is there any aspect of intern. law, rules of conduct of war that is applicable here, as to not make the RU strategy possibly a form of war crime?”

          I don’t have the answer, but it seems to me that ridding civilians via de-electrification after the severest winter weather from an impending battle space seems prudent, not criminal, regardless the purported strategic goals for adding pressure to the social dynamics, and regime stability. Whereas setting up air defense, and other mil targets amidst residential areas (as has been reported to be an UAF practice) is, if not criminal, deliberately negligent.

          1. AG

            I am asking only since as of late the West knows no boundaries re: rules and tradition of conduct any more.

            Look at the latest US scheme with UN SC resolution on Gaza as “non-binding” unless adopted under Chapter 7. Which is absurd since famous Res. 242 as Finkelstein pointed out in Princeton again last week, the most famous of resolutions, was e.g. never questioned but in fact being under Section 6 not 7.

            So the West will do everything to instrumentalize the “law” or what is not written down in the law.

            p.s. Just more than a year ago in Germany Sarah Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer had organized a first big anti-war protest. Their memo was much watered down. And it said “50,000” civilians have been killed in UKR (!!!sic). I contacted them since I really thought this was an error (it was then signed by 100,000 people within two weeks – by now 910.000) . I pointed at the UNHCR figure of I believe around 8000 then. It turned out the people involved in drafting the memo took numbers from the US Army which before and since I have never encountered anywhere. So they used totally fantastic numbers as a precaution. Bending truth.
            Which is absurd on so many levels. That made it clear to me how low the competence level in German scholarship and activism truly is. (Of course I whole-heartedly supported them, but still…)

            So devil´s in the detail and you end up with a new rigged ICC case against RU.

        2. JohnA

          Re post-war tourism to Ukraine: as a big fan of Bulgakov, when I was in Kiev a few years ago, I visited his house, that is now a museum and was the setting for his novel The White Guard. When I came home I re-read the White Guard, and gained so much more from the book as I could better picture the events and locations he described.
          Now, all things related to Bulgakov are being expunged as part of the deRussianisation of Ukraine. I suspect the museum will be destroyed along with all references to him. Such a short sighted approach and another reason not to visit Kiev if and when peace returns.

          1. AG

            I once knew a guy from Mariupol who read “Master and Margarita” once a year. It helped him not to kill himself (this was almost 25 years ago…)

            re: banning Bulgakov is of course idiotic on so many levels considering his biography. Same of course goes for gay Tchaikovsky a fact I am sure none of those allegedly woke moron censors on campuses and orchestras know.

      2. Michaelmas

        And you can see the Kharkiv exodus is not being reported in the Western press.

        Yes, the level of non-reporting is remarkable. Google, for one, was entirely suppressing videos of the Kharkiv car jams out of the city when I searched there a couple of hours ago.

    2. Revenant

      Turning off civilian power exposes military power signatures. The remaining Ukrainian troops literally glow in the dark. Russia will pick them off in targeted fashion.

  9. Anton Yashin

    Yeah, this is indeed a feature. Additional 10-20 millions of refuges in EU is just fine. Why this is happens? We need remember Erdogan several years ago. EU does have a wee problem. Another problem is money. Allow to waste additional money at Ukraine. More is better.

    1. i just don't like the gravy

      I hope Europe gets all the refugees. I want none in USA. Climate collapse will lead to mass migration we don’t need anymore to deal with you guys can have them

      1. Felix_47

        I find Ukrainians pretty well educated and capable compare to the majority of migrants arrving in the US every day. Does the US really need more low wage cleaning ladies, leaf blower guys and baby incubators? I could see how that might benefit the health care and education and legal industry but will it improve the US standard of living? Based on past history the children of the mass of current migrants will not be very productive whereas the Ukrainian migrants have often grown up in a Soviet system where technical education and competence was respected.

  10. les online

    Seems those Ruskis have been watching the Israelis,
    how the Israelis herded Gazan Palestinians towards Rafah…
    I doubt the Ruskis will slaughter the forced refugees like
    Israel is doing, but if they do, will there be no outrage by
    western governments like the lack of outrage by them over
    the Israeli slaughter ?

  11. AG

    Right to migration by the UN Declaration of Human Rights is enshrined e.g. in articles 13 & 14.
    There is no distinguishing beween good refugees (political) and bad ones (economic):

    Article 13
    Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
    Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

    Article 14
    Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
    This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


  12. Matthew G. Saroff

    I still think that Poland will attempt to use the crisis to assert special influence in Galicia.

    A large proportion of the Polish polity have not accepted the divisions post WWII.


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