Bitter cold kills 101 people in Ukraine and disrupts normal life
by Olga Rudenko
A severe cold snap plunged temperatures to lows of minus 30 C, killing at least 101 people, closing schools, delaying flights and, in general, hobbling daily life.
Officials said 101 people had died across Ukraine as of Feb. 3, including people under the influence of alcohol who slept outside, others who froze in their own homes and at least one victim who fell into a river.
The start date of this dangerous period is Jan. 26, when the low dipped to minus 23 Celsius. While the cold weather is expected to ease slightly after Feb. 4, forecasters warn that temperatures will not rise significantly until Feb. 14.
The Emergency Situations Ministry said on its website that more than 1,200 other people have been hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite as temperatures in some parts of the country sank to minus 32 Celsius (minus 26 Fahrenheit).
Besides closing schools and colleges, authorities have set up nearly 3,000 heating and food shelters across the country. Health officials instructed hospitals to refrain from discharging homeless patients, even after treatment is finished, to save them from the cold.
Still, experts said the high death toll reflects the country's inability to deal with the homeless.
“Most of those who died frozen are homeless people, but not everyone,” says Mykola Blyznyuk, deputy head of Ministry of Health’s Emergency Medical Centre.
“The most common reason of death from hypothermia is injuries. A person falls down breaking his leg, finds no one around to help him and freezes to death.”
Two villagers, a 44-year-old man from Cherkassy Oblast and a 51-year-old woman from Poltava Oblast, were found dead on the doorsteps of their houses. The man was said to be an alcoholic.
Kids skating on a river in the eastern town of Zaporizhia made the gruesome discovery of an arm poking through the ice on Jan. 29. Emergency service workers took several hours to cut out a 300-kilogram ice block with a man’s body in it. The middle-aged man had been missing for 10 days, and could have had an epileptic attack following alcohol drinking, local officials said. The cause of death will be announced as soon as morgue workers defrost the body and perform an autopsy.
Doctors warn that alcohol is a dangerous companion on cold days and advise everyone to follow some simple steps to survive the cold weather. One of those is dressing multi-layered clothes.
“It’s better not to stay outside for a long time, but take breaks every 10-15 minutes, going inside to get warm,” said Georgiy Kozynets, Ukraine’s chief hypothermia and burns specialist.
Almost 1,000 people were treated in hospital for hypothermia, frostbite or chilblains. Kozynets warned that the main sign that a cold limb is seriously injured is when pain disappears. He said it is crucial to retain blood flow to limbs.
“You just grab something in your hand and hold it tightly for five minutes, and that is enough for your fingers to get chilblained,” he said.
Blyznyuk from the Emergency Situations Ministry said hospitals are still far from full but have readied extra places in case of a flood of patients.
Government forecasters said temperatures would drop to lows of minus 33 C in some parts of Ukraine on Feb. 2, before rising slightly to around 13 C. The cold snap will only end around the middle of the month, they said.
Warming brings its own dangers, including falling icicles. Local media reported that a 21-year-old Australian tourist, Catherine Rogers, was taken to hospital on Jan. 24 after a large icicle dropped on her head on one of Kyiv’s central streets.
Icicles are supposed to be cleaned by buildings’ owners, but they rarely are. Four people were injured by falling icicles in Kyiv earlier.
Kyiv Post staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.