Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Arctic cold snap tests Russians

Workers clearing snow in Moscow
Moscow has not suffered such bitter cold for years

Schoolchildren are missing classes and boiler faults have left some households shivering as Arctic cold grips Russia.

It is the coldest January in Moscow for at least a decade and forecasters predict the temperature will plummet to minus 34C in the city this week.

Traffic police have been told they can wear felt boots to work, to go with their winter underwear and fur hats.

Meanwhile, a circus in Yaroslavl is reportedly giving its elephants vodka.

"We warm them up with alcohol," their trainer Andrei Kornilov was quoted as saying.

Help for homeless

The cold was blamed for boiler problems across Russia. One hospital in Ulan-Ude, eastern Siberia, was left without heating in minus 40C.

Moscow's homeless - estimated to number about 10,000 - are seeing some benefits from the cold, however, the Izvestia newspaper reports.

Russian winter swimmers near Moskva River
Chilled out: "Walrus" winter swimmers near the Moskva River
The police have been told to be kinder than usual towards them, and helpful signs at railway stations and markets tell them where they can get hot food and medical attention, Izvestia says.

Nevertheless, two people died of hypothermia in Moscow overnight and another 14 were taken to hospital, Interfax reported.

Extreme cold in the Sverdlovsk region of the Urals sparked several bus fires through short-circuits, the IA-Regnum news agency said.

It has also been blamed for several cash machine and electronic security door breakdowns in Yekaterinburg.

But the famous Russian "walrus" club, whose members love to plunge into icy water in mid-winter, remains undeterred.

"We'll go bathing even if it reaches minus 60, like they do in Yakutia," said the club's chairman Vladimir Grebenkin.

"Walrus bathing doesn't stop - the season started at the end of December and it will end as planned in March," he told Interfax.

Ukrainians fear winter chill
02 Jan 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
03 Jan 06 |  Country profiles

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