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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 12:58 GMT
Russian energy crisis bites
Children warm their hands on an iron
Residents are using any source of heat they can
Russia's national power monopoly sacked two of its top managers in the far east of the country as some 70,000 people endured no heating in freezing temperatures in a crisis blamed on appalling infrastructure and a cash shortfall.

Television and radio broadcasting have also been hit. Power companies in Amur Region are cutting power to broadcasters in the region during the daytime over unpaid debts.

Man shovels deep snow in Vladivostok
Not the weather to get caught with no heating

Anatoly Chubais, head of Unified Energy Systems (UES) electricity monopoly, told parliament in Moscow on Wednesday he had sacked two top managers in the region as it was impossible to work with them.

"The crisis situation demands urgent action," Mr Chubais said, but he conceded the move was unlikely to remedy the situation.

"The degree of destruction of financial mechanisms in Dalenergo (the UES regional utility) is so high that extraordinary measures cannot help. A comprehensive programme on cardinal changes in the region is needed," he said.

Children warm their hands on an electric hotplate
Electricity demand has soared as well

The central heating systems for whole towns have either run out of fuel or have only enough left to keep themselves from freezing over. In Artem, 14,000 people living in 125 blocks of flats have no central heating, while night-time temperatures are dropping to -10C.

Local authorities have blamed the crisis on the federal government not paying the money it owes, including for fuel bills for military and government buildings.

The debts come to over 4bn roubles according to some counts, even though ministers say the region has had extra emergency budget funds. A leap in prices for fuel oil has not helped.

Freezing

Svetlana Kachayeva, a municipal official in the town of Kavalerovo said on Russian NTV: "Here in Kavalerovo, about 15,000 are freezing in council houses supplied by boiler houses run on liquid fuel. There are about 20,000 such houses in the district."

War veteran Ivan Sundiyev, said: "It's cold, the body aches. I can't sleep at night, whichever way I turn my leg. I don't want to have it amputated."


What is happening is an absolute disgrace

Russian President Vladimir Putin

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin berated regional governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko's administration, saying the local government was responsible for the region's woes and should not try to pass the buck to the Kremlin.

"What is happening is an absolute disgrace," Putin said. "They are not just residents of the territory, but citizens of Russia."

But Mr Nazdratenko told parliament he was not the only one to blame.

"For two consecutive weeks they have been saying that the governor is to blame for the situation in the energy sector... I should speak of the nonpayment problem and the federal agencies' debt of 460m roubles to the public utilities sector," he said.

Grounded

Russian helicopter on ground
With no fuel, that's where it'll stay

The lack of fuel is even affecting the emergency services. Two all-terrain vehicles are stuck in snow in the remote Siberian tundra, with 25 people on board including 11 children and an expectant mother on her way to a maternity hospital.

But rescuers have been unable to reach them so far because their helicopter has been grounded - there is no fuel at its base.



BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

14 Nov 00 | Media reports
Cold forces Russian action in heating row
16 Nov 00 | Europe
Cold crisis in Russian Far East
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