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Last Updated: Monday, 2 January 2006, 20:52 GMT
Ukrainians fear winter chill
By Helen Fawkes
BBC News, Ukraine

Ukrainian woman cooking with gas
Russia supplies 30% of Ukraine's natural gas
Irina Bondarenko is busy preparing food for a new year party.

The festive period lasts for many days in Ukraine, but the celebrations are being overshadowed by the escalating gas crisis.

Russia cut off the gas it supplies to Ukraine on New Year's Day because of a row over prices.

Irina lives in a village a few kilometres away from the capital, Kiev. It is snowing outside but the radiators in her kitchen are on full blast.

"I'm apprehensive about what might happen," Irina says.

"I remember the heating shortages following the collapse of the Soviet times. Back then the places where my parents worked had no heat. Now lots of people are buying electric heaters."

Political dispute

This dispute comes a year after Viktor Yushchenko became Ukraine's president.

Woman sawing wood in a village near Kiev
In Ukraine's villages people are preparing for heating shortages
The pro-Western leader was brought to power as a result of the Orange Revolution - protests involving hundreds of thousands of people.

The demonstrations were sparked by a disputed presidential election, which Moscow was accused of trying to influence.

Mr Yushchenko, who favours closer ties with Europe, replaced the pro-Russian authorities.

Many here believe Ukraine is now being punished for moving away from its sphere of influence.

"We love Russian people, but we are an independent country," says Zoya Polychenko, a teacher in the capital.

"We are not Russia's little brother. We should be treated as equal partners."

But not everyone thinks that the dispute is Russia's fault.

In less than three months there will be a parliamentary election in Ukraine. But the popularity of the president has slumped, and the opposition is blaming the Ukrainian government.

Viktor Yanukovych, an opposition leader and the loser of the last presidential election, has suggested that the situation was "provoked knowingly or with a certain goal in mind, so as to obtain this conflict".

Russia says it will no longer supply its neighbour with cheap gas and wants to charge the market price.

But Kiev refused to pay an increase of almost 400%. As a result the tap was turned off right in the middle of winter.

Dependence

Ukraine usually has harsh winters which last for several snowy months.

People have been told that energy reserves are now being used to make sure they are not left in the cold, but some are still concerned.

Economics student Marianna Cherney is wrapped up in a stripy yellow scarf as she strolls through Kiev.

The system was set up for the Soviet Union. It was never designed for countries like Ukraine to be independent
Yevhen Fedchenko
Political analyst
"I can't imagine coming home and having no heat, or hot food. The weather is freezing now. No gas means no life, especially in our winter. We will not survive."

The authorities in Ukraine have admitted that gas supplies to industry may be reduced and this could have a significant impact on the country.

"If there's no solution to this crisis soon, then the economy will suffer a great deal," says financial forecaster Sergiy Lezohy.

"It will mean that inflation will shoot up and everything we've developed since independence will be lost."

The situation is made more complicated due the legacy of the USSR and its centralised economy, says political analyst Yevhen Fedchenko.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko
Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko is facing problems
"The system was set up for the Soviet Union. It was never designed for countries like Ukraine to be independent.

"Ukraine needs Russia's gas and Russia needs Ukraine's pipelines. So we are dependent on each other."

Back at Irina's house, preparations for her festive party are in full swing.

Traditional food is being laid out on the table, alongside Ukrainian vodka and champagne.

"Our country has the sympathy of the international community," Irina says.

"We are part of Europe now. We hope that they help us find a way out of this mess."


SEE ALSO:
Russia vows to end gas shortage
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Russian gas cut 'will not hit EU'
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Putin admits Ukraine gas 'crisis'
29 Dec 05 |  Business
Ukraine ups ante over Russian gas
28 Dec 05 |  Business
Russia takes over G8 leadership
01 Jan 06 |  Europe


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