Coffee, generator, Starlink. How and where do Ukrainians work when there is no light and communication
The energy terrorism of the Russians is not able to pause the work, study and leisure of Ukrainians. Focus found out how citizens work in business centers, co-working spaces, supermarkets and cafes during power and communication outages.
In the midst of Russian energy terrorism, when Ukrainian cities are experiencing long interruptions in electricity supply and communications, millions of Ukrainians faced not only problems with organizing their lives, but also the inability to fully work and study. However, citizens quickly change their habits and preferences and find new opportunities to continue their activities.
“It was difficult in October – it was not clear where and what was working at all, there were very few generators, so cafes with Internet and electricity were at a premium – there was no place to find. By the end of November, it was quite difficult to adjust to the blackouts, but as a result, I found four cafes in my area where you can get a coffee, a croissant and work. Sometimes in the evenings I go to a restaurant and have dinner at the same time. Now, during a blackout, I already know exactly where to run with my laptop,” Yuliya Romchuk from Kyiv told Focus .
On the bright side. What office owners are doing to restore demand
Office centers in Ukraine have gradually become vacant in recent years. Initially, the coronavirus epidemic dispersed the company’s staff to remote work. Then the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation intensified this trend. However, in the face of frequent power outages, business centers that can provide tenants with uninterrupted work now appear in a new light.
According to Iryna Shkolnik, a member of the supervisory board of Forum Group (which controls one of the largest networks of business centers in Ukraine), after October 10, the demand for premises where it is possible to work during a blackout increased by 15-20%. Accordingly, the owners of the BC tried to quickly ensure the autonomy of their facilities.
“Today most business centers are already equipped with generators and equipment to organize uninterrupted work. In BC they are trying to create conditions for the work of other businesses, and thanks to this, in several large objects, office occupancy has reached 70-80%, which has become a rather high indicator in the current conditions,” comments Olga Solovei, co-founder and managing partner of the Ukrainian Real Estate Club (URE Club).
In particular, according to Iryna Shkolnik, the following options provide autonomy in BC of the capital network Forum:
reserve water supply
pools with technical water
a large supply of drinking water
autonomous heating (solid fuel and gas)
cellular communication repeaters in BC areas, which, according to agreements with mobile operators, can be powered by diesel generators
fiber optic internet
“Children’s rooms” and “Support points”
The measures listed above require large additional costs from BC owners. But so far this is not always reflected in the cost of services. For example, Focus was informed that the rental price was not changed in the BC network of Forum. And in the multi-functional complex Gulliver, which will be discussed in more detail below, it was clarified that the use of autonomous systems only affected the increase in utility costs, because power supply from diesel generators is many times more expensive than from a centralized network.
However, according to Victoria Bereshchak, an expert on the real estate market, office space owners who try to independently ensure the needs of tenants in uninterrupted work sometimes increase the cost of rent, but not by more than 20%. Iryna Shkolnik confirms that businesses are really willing to pay 10-20% more than the average market price for guaranteed work. The fact that “generator” electricity is almost five times more expensive does not stop many.
The challenges of time dictate new formats. According to Olga Solovei, the demand for short-term rentals such as co-working spaces is growing, which is relevant for outsourcers and everyone who is looking for an opportunity to work in stable conditions. According to the interlocutor of Focus, some such locations are now completely filled.
To ensure stable operation, coworking spaces are usually connected to two or more power lines, which work at different times during blackouts, and the Internet is provided by several alternative providers. More recently, generators and Starlink have been added to this kit to create options even during large-scale and prolonged blackouts.
The cost of renting a workplace in coworking spaces in Kyiv and large cities starts from UAH 250 per day or from UAH 4,000 in case of monthly payment. As a rule, specialists with a stable, higher than average salary can afford to work in a co-working space, often employees of the IT sector.
Pass the exam in the supermarket. How retail creates islands of light for Ukrainians
Prolonged power outages called into question the profitability of commercial real estate and retail. According to Evgenia Loktionova, director of the UTG company, in stores where lighting regularly disappears, retailers face a 20-50% drop in sales.
According to Victoria Bereshchak, in such a difficult situation, the tenants of commercial real estate agree with the owners of the premises to postpone payments or reduce the rental rate (on average by 10-15%) or stop their activities until the situation with electricity stabilizes.
However, in order to preserve their business, SEC owners dare to buy large-capacity industrial generators capable of covering the important needs of the building – elevator equipment, electronic systems, and engineering communications.
According to Evgenia Loktionova, almost all operators of the commercial real estate market have already installed generators, if not at all of their facilities, then at most, and continue to install them at those that have not yet received backup power. As an example, the interlocutor of Focus cites the capital shopping center Gulliver, where the owners ensured almost complete autonomy due to backup power.
At Gulliver multi-functional complex, they confirmed to Focus that in the case of a blackout, this facility can work without interruption for a long time due to backup power. For this, four separate generators with a total capacity of 2.2 MW are used. The irreducible reserve of fuel for them, which is stored in the supplier’s tanks and delivered as needed, reaches 90 tons. At the same time, stable Internet in the complex is provided by several providers whose equipment is connected to backup power. And the supply of technical water here will be enough for up to ten days of autonomous operation.
In a situation of frequent power outages, SECs often become islands of light for Ukrainians in neighborhoods without electricity. “People go to SECs not only for shopping, but also to distract themselves from the complexities of today’s life. SECs now report on their pages in social networks that they always have light, WiFi, areas where you can recharge gadgets, warm up, eat, study or to work. And there are more and more such places,” comments Evgenia Loktionova. For example, a free co-working space with wireless Internet for 100 workplaces called “Unbreakable Hub” started working in one of Kyiv’s “Epicentr” shopping centers.
Meanwhile, supermarket chains are connecting more and more stores to powerful generators, which also create conditions for Ukrainians to work and study. In particular, the Focus columnist has experience working in one of the supermarkets of the “Silpo” network, where at first, during long-term power outages in the area, there were not enough outlets and places to sit for everyone who wanted to recharge their gadgets. To solve this problem, people often came there with their extension cords. However, now additional tables and soft chairs have been installed in the supermarket, adapters with a large number of sockets have been connected.
You can work in malls or supermarkets connected to generators for free. Such a democratic form is often chosen by students, employees with a flexible employment schedule, volunteers, parents with school-age children who should be taught lessons, and teachers. For example, social networks talked about a teacher of the capital’s university who, during a blackout, took exams from her students in one of the “Silpo” supermarkets. It is possible that her students contacted her from other supermarkets or cafes.
Light for all. How business helps Ukrainians survive blackouts
“Co-working spaces and offices with the possibility of uninterrupted work have become the basis of life in cities,” summarizes Victoria Bereshchak. “In addition, local co-working formats have appeared, where business owners provide jobs for free or for a fixed price that covers gasoline costs rather than acts as additional income.”
For example, the Focus columnist has experience working at one of the ROZETKA distribution points, where during long-term power outages and communication interruptions, it was possible to recharge gadgets and use Wi-Fi. And one of the interlocutors of Focus said that in critical situations she goes to the nearest branch of the “Nova Poshta” operator.
“When the country was covered by a series of blackouts, we announced that our branches are equipped with generators and are open to anyone who wants to recharge their gadgets and connect to our Internet,” the press service of “Nova Poshta” confirmed to Focus. “We equipped the branches with additional extension cords, chairs and are ready to receive people”.
“Nova Poshta” clarifies that preparations for the severe winter at the company began in advance, and the company purchased the main number of generators by October 2022. Initially, branches in large cities and de-occupied territories were equipped with generators, and now a new batch has been purchased for small settlements and villages. In addition, the Internet needs of the branches were met at the expense of Starlink modules.
“Ukrainians come to “Nova Poshta” branches every day to connect to the Internet and recharge their gadgets,” the company’s press service shares observations. “It happens that in the departments people dry their hair with a hairdryer, do a manicure with a UV lamp, work with laptops, and sometimes even connect printers. Teachers conduct online lessons with us. Sellers from nearby shops come to boil water or heat lunch.”
Such a practice has become quite common for Ukrainian businesses, and many gas stations equipped with generators, pharmacies, bank branches, etc., now provide the opportunity to recharge and go online.
“Such points are a requirement of time. We created them at BC Forum because we have the opportunity to provide people with complete autonomy even during a blackout,” comments Iryna Shkolnik. According to the interlocutor of Focus, for businesses, the organization of such points results in additional costs for cleaning, security, local SMS-distribution for residents of the districts, the purchase of kettles, extension cords, cups, tea, and first-aid kits.
Starlink is in the menu. How restaurants and cafes turn into co-working spaces
“Near our house there are several cafes with generators and even one with Starlink. If you really need it, there is no problem finding a place to work,” a capital’s Obolon resident told Focus.
Autonomy of public catering establishments, as well as other businesses, is provided by generators. But, as noted by Olga Nasonova, director of the analytical center “Restaurants of Ukraine”, at first the use of generators provoked conflicts with residents if the establishments were located directly in residential complexes. Apparently, the citizens were disturbed by the noise and unpleasant smell from the generators working right under the windows. However, tensions subsided when citizens appreciated the convenience of recharging gadgets and hot lunches right in the nearest cafe with a generator during frequent power outages.
“For some establishments, turning off the lights in nearby residential buildings has created advantages. After all, the public now flocks to them to charge their gadgets, eat, drink a hot drink and buy takeaway meals, which is especially relevant for residents of buildings with electric stoves,” Olga comments on the situation. Nasonov.
According to the interlocutor of Focus, many cafes have now turned into co-working spaces, where people hold Zoom meetings, study and work. As a result, some establishments have expanded their menus to offer patrons something more than coffee, while advertising focuses not so much on food and drinks as on the availability of a generator and Starlink.
Now some Kyiv cafes can boast of Starlink satellite internet
Such a transformation benefits the cafe. As Nasonova notes, visitors who come to work for several hours often try to buy something other than coffee (for example, a dessert or a burger), which leads to an increase in the average check by 20-30%. However, not everyone does so. According to the observations of the Focus columnist, who has worked in Kyiv cafes several times, some people take a seat at an empty table for a long time and sometimes ask to pour boiling tea into their own cup for free.
The staff of institutions generally treat such visitors with understanding. Although in one of the coffee shops, which worked from a generator, the Focus observer noticed that all the sockets were disconnected. Apparently, this is how the visitors were hinted that the cafe should still be used only for its intended purpose. As Nasonova adds, some popular establishments really limit the stay of visitors with laptops in their premises. But, fortunately, there are very few such places.