Bitter Cold Kills 181 In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A bitter cold wave has killed 181 people in Ukraine over last five days, the Health Ministry said Thursday. Another 3,000 people have been treated in hospital as temperatures plunged to minus 25 C (minus 13 F), the ministry said in a statement.

Women walk in the street in Kiev. The fierce cold gripping Ukraine for the past week has killed 181 people, left thousands of others shivering and in the dark, sparked yet another row between Kiev and Moscow

The majority of those who died were homeless and intoxicated people, it said.

Temperatures were warming in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The toll came one day after Ukraine's prime minister threatened to turn off gas supplies to industry and temporarily halt industrial production in an effort to limit consumption.

At the same time, Russia mounted pressure on Ukraine to stop siphoning gas intended for a freezing Europe.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said such a move, which could cripple Ukraine's already fragile economy, might be necessary to ensure that residential and other consumers are fully supplied if the cold continues.

"The population must receive gas at a full level," Yekhanurov said. If industry "will not hear normal people's voices, we will have to use administrative measures. The government has the tap in its hands."

Russia's state-controlled monopoly OAO Gazprom complained that Ukraine was tapping into transit pipelines pumping gas to Europe, which is also suffering from a cold snap. Russia warned Ukraine on Wednesday that it would be charged for its extra usage and said it was to blame for reported shortfalls in Europe.

"We are increasing gas supplies to the Russian-Ukrainian border on practically a daily basis, but the shortfall in supplies to Europe is increasing daily and correspondingly the removal of gas in Ukraine is increasing," Gazprom's chief Alexei Miller said in televised remarks.

Ukraine's Kommersant newspaper also reported Wednesday that the European Union had called on Ukraine to stop using more than its fair share of gas. Some 80 percent of Gazprom's gas supplies to Europe go through Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government first called for a reduction in consumption on Tuesday, but Gazprom said it hadn't seen any change.

Meanwhile in Georgia, strong winds and heavy snows have downed power lines in the western part of the country, cutting power to millions of Georgians already suffering a heating outage due to a natural gas shortage.

Snow was falling in the capital, Tbilisi, as residents stood in long lines to fill kerosene canisters for portable heaters.

Some brought jewelry and other valuables to pawn shops to scrape together enough money to buy heaters and fuel.

With temperature hovering just below freezing in Tbilisi -- and markedly colder in mountainous regions -- Georgia is suffering through its worst energy crisis in years.

Source: CNN