Ukraine Facing Russian Attacks on Their Power Grid: How My Experiences in Denmark in 1973 Influences My View of Ukrainian Persistence

Daniel Reese ’75

Alumni Contributor

Much has been made of Russian attacks on the energy grid in Ukraine. They say the Ukrainians will never get through the winter and by next winter the Europeans will be begging for Russian gas. I don’t think so.

I write this article because I was an exchange student from Trinity through the Danish International Students (DIS) program at the University of Copenhagen during and after the October 1973 Yom Kippur war. I saw firsthand how people from a small country can come together, share sacrifice, and meet any challenge.

In the fall of 1973, countries which supported Israel in that war had their oil embargoed by the then nascent OPEC. These countries included notably the US, Netherlands, Canada, Japan, and Denmark. (The population of Denmark at that time was about the size of Connecticut, around 3 million.)

The political situation (why I was there) was a multi-party democracy. The leader of one of the parties, a fellow named Glystrup, had a very simple—since changed—defense program. Since whomever attacked Denmark would probably win, why bother? Simply reduce the defense budget to a telephone that invading countries could call and Denmark would simply surrender, saving everyone all the trouble.

When OPEC put little Denmark on the embargo list for supporting Israel, no Dane took up Mr. Glystrups telephone idea. Many Danes had joined the Resistance against the Nazis and were not afraid (at least outwardly) of having no oil. What made this moment especially inspiring was that Denmark was 100% dependent on imported oil.

Here in the US we produced some oil and still suffered through gasoline rationing, inflation induced price controls, unbelievably long lines at the pumps which still had gas, staggered work schedules, and major inconveniences for those who depended on their cars for work. In Denmark it could have been a nightmare. But the leaders of all the parties got together and developed a plan that got the country through the winter. This embargo lasted from October 1973 to March 1974. Everyone in the country was called upon to do their part. There was no enforcement police. People just did what they needed to do to meet the challenge.

I lived in an apartment in a suburb of Copenhagen called Lyngby. I rented a room from the owner of the apartment who was still living there, trying to make some money by renting out their extra rooms. When the embargo came this is what we had to do. As the winter went on and people got very good at conserving energy, some of these restrictions were adjusted. I have listed some of these restrictions below.

1) We could have heat in only one room of the apartment, and it could go no higher than 11.6°C degrees (about 52°F). Remember, this was winter in Denmark.

2) We could have only one light on at a time.

3) There was no hot water. Boiling for cooking was a possibility, but showers were only

available once a week at the community center.

4) More heat and lighting for reading was available only at the Lyngby public library.

5) The thermostat for our classes and lectures at the university was also 11.6°C.

6) All this meant that you ate, drank, went to classes, and slept with your ski parka on.

7) Four-lane roads turned into two lanes for cars and two for bikes and walkers.

8) Severe limits were placed on driving, and mass transit was heavily subsidized.

9) Bike lanes were built or established throughout the City of Copenhagen. They are still there today.

In an environment like this, everyone was constantly very cold, and the winter was very dark in Denmark. Even so, the entire population, including the many political parties and their leaders, did their part. And today Denmark is the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines…and the bike lanes around Copenhagen are considered models for cities around the world.

With the invasion of Ukraine now almost a year old and Russian attacks on the Ukrainian power grid as well as restrictions on natural gas to supporters of Ukraine in place, there is no doubt the tipping point in this war has been reached.

After what I saw in 1973 in Denmark as a Trinity Exchange student, if the Ukrainians get through this winter, nothing can stand in their way…

…and to those at Trinity considering leaving Hartford for part of your tenure and going abroad, go for it.

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