MOSCOW — Some 215 Russians have died this year in a prolonged period of abnormally cold winter weather, the health ministry said Monday as the overall death toll for Europe rose to well over 600.
Heavy snow continued to fall on Monday in Romania and Bulgaria, but the cold snap that froze much of Europe for the past two weeks began to ease in the west of the continent.
In Russia, 215 people died and 5,546 people suffered from hypothermia and frostbite, including 154 children, between January 1 and February 13, the ministry said in a statement.
While accustomed to frosty winters, Russia has seen 20 days of unusually cold weather, with the average temperature falling 7 to 14 degrees Celsius below average, the state weather service said.
In Moscow, the temperature was minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit) on Monday afternoon, the state weather service said.
While Russian apartment blocks are generally well heated, the homeless are particularly at risk.
In a stunt to protest the prices that Ukraine pays for Russian gas the Ukrainian feminist group Femen braved the cold to pose topless outside the Moscow headquarters of Russian gas giant Gazprom.
The women were escorted away by security guards after about 10 minutes, an AFP photographer said.
Over the last 24 hours, the coldest temperature measured in Russia was -52.8 degrees Celsius (-63 Fahrenheit) in Toko in the northern Sakha republic, the state weather service said.
Meanwhile in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, authorities set up shelters in the capital Tbilisi on Monday after two homeless people died during the coldest weather for decades.
“The situation is very serious as far as homeless people are concerned,” Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava said in a statement after visiting a hospital where a further three homeless men were reported to be in intensive care.
Ugulava said that municipally funded canteens that provide free food to the poor would be turned into temporary shelters.
Two homeless men died Friday after being admitted to hospital with hypothermia, one in the capital and the other in the western town of Ozurgeti, local media reported.
Temperatures fell to minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tbilisi on Sunday — the lowest recorded in the capital for 40 years, according to local media.
In Romania, the death toll from the cold increased to 74 on Monday as new snowfalls blanketed the south of the country.
“Unfortunately there have been six new deaths due to cold, five of which occurred outside, on the streets or in courtyards, and one in a non-heated building,” said deputy under-secretary for health Raed Arafat.
Snow disrupted road and railway transportation in the south and in Bucharest. More than 300 passenger trains were cancelled, officials said.
In neighbouring Bulgaria where heavy snowfalls also took place, the newspaper Trud on Monday said 47 people had died of cold or drowned since late January. There is no official death toll.
In Bosnia, an 84-year-old woman was found dead of cold in Foca, while in neighbouring Montenegro one of 80 passengers who have been stranded in a train for the past three days because of an avalanche died of a heart attack.
The total number of deaths in the western Balkans was put at 56.
Twenty people have died in Serbia, 13 in Bosnia, 10 in Kosovo, five in Montenegro, three in Croatia, three in Albania and two in Montenegro.
In Sarajevo the heavy snowfall caused the roof of the Olympic sports hall in Skenderija to collapse but no one was injured.
At the Grbavica football stadium, part of the stands also crumbled under the weight of the snow, an AFP photographer reported.
Over the past two weeks at least 135 people have died of the cold in Ukraine, 82 in Poland, and 45 in Italy.
In western Europe, temperatures began to return to normal February averages.