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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 17:15 GMT
Deep freeze grips Russia
A snow-covered vehicle on the island of Sakhalin
Snow storms have battered Russia's Far East

Cold winters are nothing new in Russia - but this winter is proving one of the cruellest on record.

Unused to the effects of that kind of cold on metal and skin, a man was taken by surprise when he answered a call of nature outdoors on his way home from a bar

Freezing temperatures have killed another three people in Moscow, bringing the number of deaths in the capital from severe winter cold to 242 since October.

Another 35 people suffering from frostbite and hypothermia have also been hospitalised.

Most of those who have died are the homeless, but the authorities are now also warning citizens of the dangers of drinking too much to try to keep warm outside.

Deep freeze

It is the coldest January in Russia for at least 15 years.

Two policemen in Red Square brave the cold
January is harsh even by Russian standards

So cold that when you step outdoors, the inside of your nostrils freezes almost immediately with an unpleasant prickling sensation, while your lungs take an involuntary gasp of the cold air.

Russian newspapers list the grim statistics with gloomy relish.

The government paper Rossiskaya Gazeta details six deaths during recent snow storms on the far eastern island of Sakhalin.

Among them was a boy pulled out from under a snowdrift.

Another victim was a 30-year-old driver who choked on exhaust fumes in his car as he tried to keep warm after his car broke down.

In the north-west of the country, about 25,000 people remain without heat, as dilapidated heating systems break down in the extreme frost.

Several kindergartens and even a hospital have been affected - and some flats have already been without heat for more than a week in areas where night-time temperatures have plunged to below -30C.

Mobile furnaces

The Russian army has been called in to help in some areas.

Military cadets in Moscow
The military has been helping clear snow near Moscow's Red Square

Officials say army technicians set up furnaces and mobile power stations around the country's second city, St Petersburg, to warm up buildings that have been without heat for days.

In the Far East, troops delivered emergency fuel supplies to remote villages without power.

Also in St Petersburg, the port authorities used ice-breakers to try to clear a path for some 40 ships stranded outside the Baltic port.

Close encounter

But the story that has really brought home just how cold it has become is the lucky escape by one young man in the southern city of Stavropol.

Defrosting a frozen radiator
Poor heating leaves many Russians shivering

Normally one of the warmest Russian regions, it is now an unheard-of -30C.

Unused to the effects of that kind of cold on metal and skin, the man was taken by surprise when he answered a call of nature outdoors on his way home from a bar.

Standing by a bus shelter for support, he inadvertently swayed at a crucial moment - and his most sensitive part stuck to the frozen metal.

A large crowd gathered, shouting helpful suggestions.

Finally a passing rescue worker, Valery Levchenko, was able to free the man using a kettle of warm water borrowed from a nearby chemist.

Deeply embarrassed, the young man apparently refused further medical help before running off.

It is not known whether he suffered any permanent damage - other than to his pride.

See also:

08 Jan 03 | Europe
09 Jan 03 | Media reports
05 Jan 03 | Europe
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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