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9 Jan, 2009 03:22

Life without gas: the brutal reality

As the gas dispute between Kiev and Moscow drags on, ordinary people in Europe are beginning to suffer. One small town in Bulgaria has felt the full force of the dispute.

On the morning of January 6, the gas in Razgrad was switched off.

The local gas company was only able to give two hours’ warning.

As temperatures dropped, many in the town have been forced to stay indoors. Those who have electric heaters are using them. Children are being encouraged to stay at home.

The gas cuts couldn’t have come at a worse time. The economic downturn means businesses across the country are losing millions every day.

A poultry plant in Razgrad produces one in every three chickens consumed in Bulgaria. Even a small drop in temperature results in a huge drop in productivity.

The Chief Executive Director of the Ameta Holding plant, Lyubo Lozanov, said the business had “never seen such a crisis before, and we have seen a lot of crises in the poultry industry.”

He said: “natural gas is not such a reliable source of heating, as was considered before. It was unthinkable that natural gas could actually be stopped.”

In the mayor’s office, emergency meetings follow one after the other.

Dencho Boyadzhiev is scathingly critical of his government, which failed to stockpile sufficient supplies, despite being one hundred per cent reliant on Ukraine-transited gas.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, he feels wronged.

“It doesn’t matter if the Ukrainian side is right, or the Russian side. What is important to me is that if Bulgaria has been paying on time, why should it suffer?” Razgrad Mayor Dencho Boyadzhiev said.

The hardships being endured in Razgrad are being replicated in many other towns across Eastern and Central Europe.