Ukraine freezes to death

Decades-record colds that are freezing out Europe have brought far more serious consequences to Ukraine, where the harshest winter in recent history has claimed lives of 122 people, who died of hypothermia in the last fortnight alone.

­The strong Arctic cyclone hit many countries on the European continent, reaching as far as Italy.

But Ukraine has become the hardest-hit country, with temperatures falling as low as -36 Celsius. Overall casualties here exceeded Ukraine’s only in the rest of Europe combined.

While for most European countries the recent severe weather conditions mean increased gas and electricity consumption, along with some transport disruption at worst, reports from Ukraine paint an apocalyptic picture of people freezing to death in dozens on the streets and private houses.

Of more than 2,000 that have sought medical attention, 1,591 have been hospitalized.

For the first time in decades, water in the Black Sea near shores has frozen, the Kerch Strait that links the Azov Sea and the Black Sea is closed to navigation, blocking 125 vessels at anchorage.

Record colds and strong winds on the Crimean Peninsula have led to electric line breaks in 77 communities. Currently about 70,000 people in the Crimea are surviving in blackout. Many schools, kindergartens and public offices are not operational.

When the thermometer hit -27 degrees Celsius in Ukraine’s capital Kiev last week, only public heating centers in a Kiev’s parks saved the homeless from freezing to death.

“The situation is serious, but it is controllable. The emergencies ministry has set up 3,200 heating centers nationwide. It's mostly the homeless and pensioners come there. In 10 days, more than 95,000 people turned up and they all received help,” shared Aleksandr Khorunzhiy, the spokesperson of Ministry for Emergencies.

But there were many Ukrainians who were not so lucky. The sharply increased flow of cold casualties and hospitalized frostbitten have put authorities on high alert, upgrading the weather conditions to “natural disaster” status.

Experts say the reason for so many deaths lies not in the climate, but rather in Kiev’s social and economic policies, with more and more homeless on the streets.

The majority of the deaths were in eastern Ukraine, the region with the highest unemployment rate.

“The government hasn’t created any jobs, has no social programs, and doesn’t replenish the state budget. More and more people are finding themselves on the streets. That’s why there as so many dead because of the freeze. Heating centers help and will save some people’s lives, but they won't solve the issue of deepening poverty,” political analyst Sergey Taran says.

Meteorologists are expecting temperatures to drop again to -30 Celsius over the coming weekend. The already serious situation may become even more difficult, with at least 85,000 homeless people roaming the streets of Ukraine’s cities in search of survival.