Yushchenko Blames Officials For Week-Long Heating Outage

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko yesterday blamed local officials in an eastern Ukrainian city for mismanagement that left tens of thousands of residents shivering in unheated apartments during last week's record-breaking cold spell.

Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko inspects the remains of a shattered heating system in a school in Alchevsk, 750 km (466 miles) east of Kiev

"These people don't deserve respect, they deserve to be sacked," Yushchenko said, referring to local officials in Alchevsk in the Luhansky region. Some 60,000 people have been without heat for more than a week in the city.

The shutdown occurred on January 22 when one of the main pipes pumping hot water from a central boiler into apartment houses, schools and other municipal buildings froze and broke down. Yushchenko called for a criminal investigation, and pledged that his government would do whatever it took to get the heat flowing again.

"For a week already, Alchevsk ... resembles the frozen side of the moon," Ukraine's Gazeta Po-Kievskiy declared. Ukrainian media broadcast images of residents sitting around kitchen tables bundled up in winter hats, coats and gloves.

WORKERS DISPATCHED

Ihor Krol, spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, said that some 3,600 workers from across the country had been dispatched to Alchevsk to restore the heating supply. Gradually, buildings were being hooked up to the system.

A first allotment of 2.5 million hryvna (US$494,000; euro 409,000) was being sent to the city to fund repairs, Yushchenko's office said. He said that a special emergency headquarters was now in charge in the city, Ukraine's Unian news agency reported.

Last week's cold snap caused a record jump in gas consumption in Ukraine and led to the deaths of some 220 people as this country's ageing and inefficient heating systems struggled to cope. Most of the deaths occurred in the Luhansky region; the Health Ministry has said many were homeless and intoxicated people.

Temperatures have since risen to more normal winter levels in Ukraine, with many schools and other businesses that had closed last week reopening Monday.

Source: AP

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