When the temperature is pushing minus 30 degrees Celsius, a heated tent and a meal can mean the difference between life and death. That is exactly what is on offer to the needy in Ukraine amid its coldest winter in six years.
“The guys told me that some taxi driver brought a sheepskin coat in and I was just in time to get it,” said one homeless man at an emergency tent in Kiev, showing off his warm new acquisition. “I have got a sweater here as well and a scarf, and this old jacket is mine.”
The cold snap has claimed at least 30 lives in Ukraine. The Emergencies Ministry says most of the dead were homeless.
“We turn the heaters on for people to get warm and we also give them hot tea and some snacks – sausage sandwiches, porridge,” said an emergency officer.
Authorities say more than 1,500 such centres exist. Locals donate food and clothing but Red Cross officials say it is not enough.
“We urgently need more warm clothes – tops, socks, scarves, hats and even shoes,” said a Red Cross worker.
Despite a shortage of heaters, the centres are a lifeline, with temperatures set to plummet further in the next few days.
“The temperature inside these tents is 10 to 12 degrees,” a official from the Emergencies Ministry explained. “At nights we bring in some extra liquid gas bottles, that are being refilled right now.”
There are similar tents across Ukraine and 10 in the capital Kiev alone, our correspondent there,
Yevgenia Rudenko, says.
“But some homeless people complain that you can get severe frostbite trying to find them. And even if you do reach one, it might not be very warm inside because of a lack of heaters. At least there is plenty of hot tea.”