Severe Winter Weather Slams Ukraine

ODESSA, Ukraine -- Severe winter in Ukraine has left thousands of drivers stranded and dozens of villages without power, local media reported Friday. Heavy snow that knocked down power lines left 158 villages and towns in the former Soviet republic without power, said officials from the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES).

The worst-hit region was Ukraine's usually snow-free south and east, where high winds and heavy snow fall had piled up drifts in excess of a metre at some locations, MES director Ihor Krol was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Between five and eight thousand cars and lorries were stranded Thursday evening on a highway to the west of the Black Sea port city Odessa, forcing drivers and passengers to abandon their vehicles and seek shelter.

Road-clearing and emergency-assistance teams sent by local officials were assisting the motorists, the Odessa-based news agency Liga reported.

"There have not been any deaths or injuries, but some of the drivers are panicking, which is interfering with the assistance effort," said Denys Kostenko, a Odessa-based MES spokesman.

The traffic jam of stuck and abandoned vehicles blocked a 6- kilometre stretch of highway on Thursday, he said.

Anatoly Vorokhaev, Odessa deputy mayor, told the Korrespondent website that poor driver preparation for winter roads was contributing to the difficulties.

"One of the main reasons for ... the traffic jams is that motorists have not put winter tyres on their vehicles, and lots of times they are just driving on bald tyres," he said.

Stuck vehicles and delays of six hours and more were also reported on highways in Ukraine's eastern Kherson and Donetsk provinces.

Traffic police on Thursday evening closed a heavily travelled intercity roadway in Kherson province to nighttime use.

Source: DPA