Deadly freeze: Hundreds dead in Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe

The wave of frost that has rolled over Eastern Europe has carried away hundreds of lives, paralyzed road traffic, and pushed the cost of heating homes and offices sky-high.

The most alarming reports have come from Ukraine, where the death toll has topped 100. To fight the -34-35C freeze, Ukraine has opened some 2,940 “warming posts” which have been visited by more than 17,000 people since last Friday. In just over three days, the country used 1 billion cubic meters of gas – a huge jump from the usual rate of 160 million cubic meters per day.

In Belarus, over 900 schools had to close as temperatures there hit the -25C threshold, which is extreme for the country. Kazakhstan’s authorities took similar measures, with the temperature dipping to -52C.

The Russian capital, meanwhile, has seen a series of record low temperatures, with last night’s temperature plummeting to -28, the lowest for more than 60 years. On February 1, Moscow also broke its record for daily energy consumption, with 17,333 Megawatts being used.

The frosts have also brought a rash of house fires, with homes using stove heating particularly badly hit. The number of domestic blazes went up by almost a third, said Russia’s emergencies minister, Sergey Shoigu.

A young man with his face shielded from the cold walks past a temperature display City-goers brave the cold on Independence square in Kiev on February 1, 2012 (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)
A young man with his face shielded from the cold walks past a temperature display City-goers brave the cold on Independence square in Kiev on February 1, 2012 (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)

Freezing planet

Eastern Europe is not the only spot hit to be hit by the freeze. In Japan, around 50 people have died from a variety of weather-related accidents as temperatures dropped to -26С. The snow blanket in Aomori prefecture reached a thickness of 4.3 meters.

In Kazakhstan, the frosts paralyzed traffic in five regions, with emergency workers allowing only public buses onto the roads. The vehicles are being accompanied en route to big cities in a bid to prevent accidents. Over 100 people were evacuated from frozen cars; another 50 were saved from a bus that was on the verge of turning into ice.

The extreme weather is ravaging wildlife, too. Kazakhstan’s main artery, the Ishym river, has frozen from top to bottom – killing all the fish.

Animals in local zoos are also suffering from the severe weather conditions, leading zoo-keepers to dream up original ways to keep their spirits – and temperatures – up. . Staff at a zoo in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, are giving their apes wine mixed with lemon, sugar and apples. The cocktail helps the animals keep warm in the -38C freeze.

In addition, large swathes of the Black Sea coastline are now set in ice, with some beaches in Ukraine's coastal city of Odessa completely frozen up to 100 meters from the shore, trapping boats in the ice. The freezing of the Black Sea is far from a regular occurrence, although abnormally low temperatures also caused it to ice over close to Odessa in March of last year.

A woman, wrapped up against the cold walks in the center of Kiev where temperatures drop to -20° degrees Celsius in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on February 1, 2012 (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)
A woman, wrapped up against the cold walks in the center of Kiev where temperatures drop to -20° degrees Celsius in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on February 1, 2012 (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)

Give the catalogue of casualties, it may come as some surprise to hear that winter 2011-2012 is not the coldest ever in Europe, say specialists from the World Meteorological Organization.

Two years ago, they say, the winter was far more extreme, with the frosts lasting for all three of the months of winter.This year, by contrast, the cold only hit the region in late January.

How the situation will develop depends mostly on the anti-cyclone that is now blocking warm air currents.

Russia’s meteorological center says the frosts may last for another month. They compare the anti-cyclone to the one responsible for the extreme summer of 2010 when temperatures hovered between 30-35C for over a month.

Black Sea
Black Sea

Icy business

There is, however, a brighter side to the deep freeze. Factories making traditional Russian valenki boots cannot but rejoice, as sales have almost doubled. Takeaway restaurants are also counting and re-counting the profits.

The frosts have also contributed to the drop in crime: Moscow alone, the figure has fallen by 25-30 per cent.

Doctors say that the cold is also holding back the traditional winter flu epidemic.

The freeze is grist to the media mill as well, making headlines across the press.Journalists have been collecting a myriad of recipes for overcoming the cold, and telling funny and tragic stories about European’s frosty adventures. Some reporters have even offered instructions on how to breathe in frost, as well as penning detailed guides to dressing for warmth.

A small snow drift crowns the monument of Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem, pen name of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)
A small snow drift crowns the monument of Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem, pen name of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)

Here is some advice from RT:

Doctors recommend people wear as many layers of clothing as possible. A hat is also a necessity, as 30 per cent of heat leaves the human body through the head.

Dieting is strictly discouraged – consume enough food and drink to allow the body to keep generating heat.

In case of frostbite, heat the affected area gently with warm water, starting at +24C and increasing the heat gradually. Rubbing is not recommended as it can further harm damaged tissue.

Do not hesitate to call an ambulance if you feel you are unable to cope on your own.