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Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Europeans struggle to keep warm

The suspension of Russian gas supplies via Ukraine is continuing to make life harder for millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe.

Here, readers from some of the worst affected countries describe the struggle to keep their homes warm in sub-zero temperatures.

IVELINA NIKOVA, DOBRICH, BULGARIA

Ivelina Nikova
Both of my children won't go to school for an indefinite period of time. They went to school yesterday only to spend some time in cold classrooms before they were released to go home.

Only four schools in town will try using other means of energy. It's happy days for the kids, but not for us.

Right now we are, it seems, on some kind of limited gas supply regime. Yesterday we didn't have heating and hot water for the whole day. Supply was cut without any warning.

The heating started working overnight, again without prior information about it. We were only told that there will be a regime, but we don't know when and for how long the heating will be on.

That creates lots of problems because every time the heating stops we need to pump the water out of the system, otherwise the water may freeze and break the pipes.

Most of the industries have stopped their production. Some of them are trying to use alternative fuel, though most seem not able to do that.

So, the situation is not happy at all. Our country is in a real mess. We are now entirely dependent on the weather forecast.

ILCHO KAVKAZOV, PLOVDIV, BULGARIA

Ilcho Kavkazov
I own a business producing hollow fibre, which is used in furniture and clothes. It's a 24-hour operation, which uses gas. Now we've got a reduced supply of gas, which is down to eight hours a day.

I am forced to send workers home, which will not only have a bad effect on my business, but it means that the workers will get paid less at the end of the month.

Those who do come to work are not in good health - everyone is complaining of colds because their houses are cold and they don't have hot water at home.

The situation is really bad for my business. We export to Greece and the winter months are the most profitable for us because hollow fibre is used in duvets and people buy duvets mostly in the winter.

We are already beginning to feel the effect of the economic crisis, but if this situation continues, things will get even worse. I may have to lay-off 15 to 20 of my 60 workers.

Still, there are people worse off than I am - I live in Bulgaria's second largest city. I've got colleagues in the small town of Yambol, where gas supply has stopped entirely, resulting in a complete halt of production.

SERIF ZVIZDIC, SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA

It's freezing cold outside. There are six of us in our house, me and my wife, my two sons and my elderly parents. Our gas heating stopped working on Tuesday.

It's very cold inside and I am not so worried about myself, but about my parents. My mother is 82 and my father is 84. Old people need to be warm.

We wear as many clothes as we can and wrap ourselves in blankets. In the morning we use a bit of water we've boiled to have a quick wash.

We now use an electric heater, which can only warm a small room. If you turn a second heater on, we get power cuts. We've had quite a few power cuts in the last few days.

I work in a bank and we are lucky that we have coal heating there. Most places in Sarajevo - institutions, factories, schools, rely on gas for their heating. It's a terrible situation.

OLIVER VARCOE, BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

We are beginning to feel the effects of the gas cut-off. Now it's cold inside as well as outside. We have gas central heating, and for the first time, the heating stopped working last night.

We managed to take lukewarm showers, but the hot water is going too. Last night we called a repairman about the heating, but he said that he is getting calls from everyone and there's nothing he can do about it.

We've got a fireplace, so we'll use that for heating. We are obviously worried about the situation, everybody is, it is a big story here, but there's nothing we can do.

KRISTIN RAZSOLKOVA, SOFIA, BULGARIA

Kristin Razsolkova
Our heating is working at a minimum - the temperature indoors is about 13C. Yesterday I went out to buy an electric heater and it was really difficult to find one, as everyone is buying them.

We try not to use it constantly, we were warned not to, because the system can't cope with this increased demand.

Now we have hot water again, which is very nice, but we don't know for how long.

Twenty eight schools in Sofia have been closed and the number of closed schools throughout the country is soon going to reach 100. Some hospitals are also being closed.

The street light is working to a 30% capacity. Yesterday when I was coming home the streets in our neighbourhood were completely dark, you couldn't see your feet.

People are truly worried, but there is also a great deal of anger. I was quite shocked to read that Minister Dimitrov received a letter on 18 December from the vice president of Russia warning that Bulgaria's gas supplies may be disrupted. And yet, we have no reserves and we are not prepared for this situation.

ZACH NICODEMOUS, BELGRADE, SERBIA

Sach Nicodemous
Last night the gas was completely turned off and we remained without heating. Now I'm using electric heaters and so does everyone else. Pretty much the whole of the city is affected.

Everyone's biggest worry is that the electric system won't be able to cope with the pressure and there might be power cuts. We get blackouts once or twice a month anyway, but now it's going to be even worse.

Serbia relies heavily on gas from Russia. The problem with electricity is that often it is produced using gas, so it's a vicious circle. Now there are instructions to use oil-based fuel wherever possible.

I see lots of smoke coming out of the chimneys, so people must be resorting to good old ways of keeping warm. It's only - 2C now and we are coping for the time being. But if it gets colder and especially if we remain without gas for longer, we'll be in real trouble.

I've just heard a report on a local TV station that says that all hospitals across the country have lost their gas supplies and they have put a general bulletin out for friends and families of patients to bring electrical heaters.

ANDREA SVOBODOVA, MLADA BOLESLAV, CZECH REPUBLIC

Andrea Svobodova
We haven't felt the effect of the gas supply halt yet, but we are very worried about it. Our government says that we've got some reserves and they are now trying to get gas from Norway.

Despite this, everybody is really worried and we constantly follow the latest developments around this story. Gas from Norway is going to be a fraction of what we consume.

And if the weather was warmer, we probably would feel better. It is so cold, we haven't had such a winter for a while. It is - 18 C. If we have to resort to electric power to heat our homes, it will cost us dearly.

We are very worried about the situation. We use gas heating at home and have no alternatives at the moment!


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