Record-Low Temperatures Sweep Across Russia
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Melissa Block.
BLOCK: it's cold in Russia. Now I understand that that doesn't necessarily sound like news because it's always cold in Russia in January, but this week, a cold front has swept across the country that has taken temperatures to record lows. Oil wells are freezing and frigid temperatures have even started breaking down electricity and heating infrastructure. NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.
GREGORY FEIFER: It's often said Russia's winter has helped shaped the country's history and character. After all, it destroyed the invading armies of Napoleon and Hitler. Russians are used to long months of cold, but this week, they're being tested. Five days into the coldest winter in 26 years, the Artic freeze is pushing temperatures in Siberia down to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Further west in the half-paralyzed capital, overnight temperatures dropped to around minus 24 degrees, killing at least seven people. Machinery is breaking down as moving parts freeze. Bank ATMs are malfunctioning and electric trolley buses grinding to a halt. Traffic is greatly reduced since mostly only the lucky few with heated garages or those who simply keep their cars running get on the road.
The cold has left 7,000 without electricity in the Urals mountain city of Chelyabinsk. Hundreds in a Moscow suburb lost their heating after pipes burst yesterday. The natural gas monopoly gas prompt has cut supplies to Europe to meet the spike in domestic demand. The cold is especially difficult for the many without a social safety net. 86 year old Anastacia Ivonevnya(ph) is slowly shuffling along icy Moscow's sidewalks. She says she lives alone in a cold apartment and must shop for food everyday.
ANASTACIA IVONEVNYA: (through translator) It's cold. My hands are frozen and so are my feet.
FEIFER: Moscow police have orders to take some homeless to shelters and allow others to stay in train stations to keep warm. But 32 year old, Oksana Pavlova(ph), who's been homeless for two years, says she hasn't noticed any changes from the usual policies. She's seeking temporary warmth under the heating vents of a Metro entrance. She says she has to keep moving to hide from police.
OKSANA PAVLOVA: (through translator) We come here to warm up for just ten minutes if we can stay here that long, and then run out. Otherwise they beat us very viciously right here in the Metro, they don't even care who's watching.
FEIFER: Justine Simmons (ph), of Mets en son frontiere(ph) heads a project providing help to homeless children. She says some officials with whom she deals have changed their attitudes and improved help to those vulnerable to the cold.
Ms. JUSTINE SIMMONS (Head of project to help homeless) That's temporarily okay, but its just like putting a band-aid on an open wound and not treating the cause of the wound.
FEIFER: Moscow has recently renovated temporary dormitories for homeless children, but Simmons said municipal authorities aren't doing enough to keep children off the streets. Although the deep freeze poses a serious threat to many, for others it's part of a real Russian winter.
Thursday was the Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, which tradition says brings cold weather called the Epiphany frost. People celebrate by plunging into swimming holes cut out of ice covered ponds and rivers.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)
FEIFER: Climbing out of a pond near Moscow into the minus 22 degree air, first-timer Pavol Shateenen(ph) said he didn't feel cold.
PAVOL SHATEENEN: (through translator) I feel great. What else can you feel in such cold weather?
FEIFER: Raymond Gothard (ph), head of the government's weather service, says winds pushing the cold Siberian weather so far west are unusual.
RAMOND GOTHARD: (through translator) Having freezing temperatures below minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit for four straight days has only been recorded once before.
FEIFER: Tonight, the mercury level in Moscow is expected to reach minus 35. The weather may warm up temporarily over the weekend. But the weather service says that still means temperatures won't rise above minus 20 before getting even colder net week.
Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.
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