When winter temperatures start to drop, keeping warm in Russia’s Far East means being remarkably resourceful—stuffing old pillow cases or clothing into empty cans, soaking them in vegetable oil, and lighting them on fire to make a miniature heater or cooking stove, for example. It means wearing outdoor clothing inside and whole families huddling together in one room. Sometimes it even means freezing to death.
The energy crisis in the maritime region of Primorye has reached panic proportions. The central heating system, like many such systems in Russia’s more remote regions, is a monolith of malfunctions—from rusted, cracked pipes that should have been replaced decades ago to the soaked, debilitated tape and rags used to hold them together. Fuel to operate the system is in seriously short supply. Local authorities are blaming the federal government and the energy provider for the crisis, while the federal government is blaming the local authorities for negligence. The people are less concerned with who’s at fault—they’re just plain cold.
Cold kills hundreds of people in Russia each year. On 27 November, two young girls in Artyom—8-year-old Sasha and 3-year-old Zhenya Kolchigin—died in their sleep of smoke inhalation after their electric blanket short-circuited. They were trying to keep warm in their unheated apartment.
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