|I know I should be writing these pages instead of pasting
in articles from the Moscow Times, but after two weeks straight of -15C
and snow, I’m too cold to care!
Moscow Times November 11, 1998
Coldest Winter in 30 Years Grips City
By Julia Solovyova Staff Writer
Temperatures across Russia plummeted Tuesday, killing homeless
people, closing schools in Vladivostok and prompting a swan rescue
operation at Moscow’s Novodevichy Monastery.
And it will get worse before it gets better: Meteorologists say the
week will just get colder – and over the next few months Moscow will
sink into its coldest winter in 30 years. ‘Winter has finally
arrived,’ said Alexander Vasilyev, director of Gidromettsentr, the
federal weather forecast agency, in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Vasilyev predicted average temperatures this winter in Moscow will be 1
degree colder than last year’s, which would make it the coldest winter
since the 1960’s.
The average daily temperature in Moscow has been
hovering below zero since Sunday, and Tuesday it fell as low as minus 10
degrees Celsius during the day. Tuesday night, temperatures were
expected to dip far lower, to minus 15 C in Moscow and minus 19 C in the
surrounding Moscow region. Daytime temperatures will hover around minus
13 C on Wednesday and Thursday, meteorologists say. Friday will bring
some relief, with temperatures rising to somewhere between minus 7 C and
minus 2 C.
The cold has been brought in by a massive front drifting down from
the Arctic Ocean. Unhindered by Russia’s flat northern plains, freezing
winds are sweeping across the country, from Murmansk and St. Petersburg
to Moscow, then to Central Russia, and eventually to the North Caucasus
and Kazakhstan. Such severe Arctic cold fronts have been given names in
Russian folklore. When they come in January they are called the
Christmas Frost; when they come in early May they are the Bird Cherry
But temperatures this low in early November are rare indeed, coming
just once every 20 years or so, Vasilyev said. It is so rare that there
is not even a picturesque name for it: It’s just cold.
Every year the onset of winter kills homeless and drunk Muscovites.
This week’s cold snap has already claimed nine lives, according to
Lyubov Zhomova, a spokeswoman for the city ambulance service. Another 67
people, many of them homeless, were hospitalized for hypothermia, she
said. In addition to human casualties, two frostbitten white swans had
to be forcibly rescued from a pond near the Novodevichy Monastery on
Tuesday, said Nina Tolmachyova of the Moscow Rescue Service. The swans
were left shelterless when their wooden houses mysteriously disappeared
from the monastery’s grounds the night before, apparently stolen.
Rescuers spent three hours chasing the scared birds, Christina and
Edward, around a pond covered with a layer of ice too thin to walk upon
but too thick to break through with a boat. Eventually a Rescue Service
diver, Levan Agarov, had to break a path through the ice with his body
for the boat to follow. In the end the two were lassoed and evacuated to
the Moscow Zoo, away from hungry stray dogs and freezing cold.
In the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, temperatures were dropping
below freezing but the city’s central heating has not yet kicked on,
which forced citywide closures of schools and daycare centers, Interfax
reported. Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov appealed to the local
prosecutor’s office to file charges against local energy supplier
Dalenergo for not turning on heat to the city. Dalnergo said the heat
would come on later this week. Company officials also told Interfax that
the city has not paid its debts, and that has left too little money to
buy fuel for the winter or to repair some heating pipes.
So far, the cold hasn’t caused any other damage. There has been no
increase in traffic accidents, said Tolmachyova of the Rescue Service.
This year’s harvest was poor but not because of the cold, as it was
collected long before the frost set in, said Leonid Kholod, a former
ministe r of agriculture – and a man clearly authorized to discuss
winter weather, as his last name means ‘cold’ in Russian.
If this week’s temperatures are unusually severe, snow on Nov. 7 is
nothing special. It traditionally accompanies Moscow’s Revolution Day
celebrations, as longtime Muscovites well know. A Soviet-era anecdote
even held that the tribunes above the Lenin Mausoleum were heated so
that geriatic Kremlin officials would not freeze – even though their
only movement as they spent hours watching marching crowds stream past
was to wave phlegmatically.
Moscow Times December 4, 1998
Tempers Boil in Unheated Far East
By Russell Working
VLADIVOSTOK, Far East — Thousands of people are shivering in cold
homes in an icy archipelago across the Far East and the public’s
patience is boiling over.
A week ago demonstrators and motorists clashed here during a protest
over unheated apartments. About 600 apartment blocks in Vladivostok are
still without central heating or are inadequately warmed due to a
combination of fuel shortages, delayed maintenance work, and
bureaucratic infighting, local media reported. Tens of thousands of
people in this Pacific port city of 634,000 are warming themselves with
space heaters and by bundling up while indoors.
In the worse homes and offices, sewage freezes in toilets, porcelain
cracks and maintenance workers struggle to thaw frozen pipes. The
overtaxed electrical system in some apartment blocks is fizzing out due
to the overuse of space heaters. ‘We all stayed in one room with
the space heater, and we all slept together in one bed with the
dog,’ said Olga Zinyakova, a 40-year-old shopkeeper whose heat was
only turned on Tuesday. ‘Our German shepherd was so cold he kept
trying to get under the blankets with us.’
The situation is similar elsewhere. Anatoly Makhankov, head of the
Federation of Trade Unions of Magadanskaya Region, said there has been
no central heating for weeks in homes in Magadan, about 1,500 kilometers
to the north, because the energy company can’t afford coal. Schools have
been closed and a commission from the Emergency Situations Ministry
called the predicament a disaster during a recent visit. ‘People
are hostages here because they have nowhere to go,’ Makhankov said.
In the town of Mys Shmidta on the Arctic Sea in the Chukotka
autonomous region, 286 people had to be evacuated to an army base
Thursday after the explosion of a heating system that serviced 10
apartment blocks. Temperatures are below minus 25 degrees Celsius.
And less than a month after federal officials flew to
Petropavlavsk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula to deal with an
emergency fuel shortage, the northeastern seaport of 265,000 is again
running short of fuel. Homes have had no electricity for three days and
their heat has been reduced to save energy, said Vera Vlasova,
spokeswoman for the Kamchatka region Press Center. Despite a wealth of
natural gas and geothermal reserves, Kamchatka runs its power plants and
heats its homes with oil imported by tanker.
Some small villages have been hit even harder. There is no heat in
Olenevod, a collective farm village of about 1,000 people in Primorye,
the finger of Russia flanked by China, North Korea and the Sea of Japan.
Most villagers there once raised deer but are now unemployed.
Temperatures that have fallen to minus 22 C have mostly kept irate
citizens indoors. But last week in Vladivostok, anger boiled over when
at least 7,000 people in 29 apartment blocks were left without heat
because of a squabble between the city and the port, which share
responsibility for the boilers heating the homes. Hundreds of protesters
blocked a bridge in the Egersheld suburb, and when a television crew
tried to move its Volga through the crowd, Alexander Shishov, 68,
started beating the vehicle with his cane. ‘I can barely stand on
my leg, and he tried to push me with his car,’ Shishov explained.
The mob attacked the Volga, tore off its grille, and nearly succeeded
in flipping the car over before police intervened. One motorist in a
foreign sports car set his dog on the protesters, after which some of
the mob grabbed the man and threw him on the hood of his car, news
reports said. A police squadron rescued the driver.
Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov’s office refused to comment on the
situation, referring reporters to a Nov. 26 news release stating that
problems with energy supplier Dalenergo’s pipelines shut down heat to
‘half of the city.’ Port officials scurried to return
heat to most apartments left without heat, but others remained in the
cold. Pensioners lined up outside one building to buy discounted
herring, sugar and flour at a store. Workers bundled in scarves and fur
hats shoveled bags full of flour for the elderly, bulky in their
multiple sweaters and coats.
Raisa Stratova, an accountant, huddled in an office decorated with
her boss’s posters of a woman in a thong washing a red Mustang with a
sponge. An electric heater buzzed underfoot, but she couldn’t get warm.
‘We can’t turn on more because there will be blackouts,’ she
Upstairs, Tatyana Kasianova, 38, said her 8-year-old boy has a cough
and she doesn’t know how to treat him in a cold apartment. The heat
never rises above 7 C. The dormitory-style apartment has neither toilet
nor bath, and the common shower room down the hall is unheated. ‘We
keep the space heaters on in the bedroom all night, although we are
afraid of fires,’ she said.
Elsewhere in the building, workers removed a section of floor and
began thawing frozen pipes with a blowtorch. Sergei Besprozvanny, a
plumber with a household maintenance company, said the city and the port
had squabbled for too long over repairs, and now pipes have frozen in
exterior hallways and stairwells.
‘It’s the end of the 20th century, and people are flying to
outer space, and we are thawing pipes with a blowtorch,’ he said