A cold snap in the Ukraine has killed at least 83 people so far, but harsh weather isn’t the only culprit. Most Ukrainians can deal with the chill by throwing on extra blankets or turning up the heat in their homes – but for those without shelter, winter is a deadly season.
Homelessness is a widespread problem in Ukraine. In the capital city of Kiev alone, city officials say that there are about 15,000 people living on the streets. Temperatures there fall well below freezing on a regular basis, and they may continue to drop as the winter drags on. Heavy snowfall has only worsened matters.
This isn’t the first time Ukraine has dealt with cold-weather mortalities. Over 100 people, most of whom were homeless, died of cold in the early months of 2012. Another cold snap in 2010 killed 47.
Ivan Brilyuk, a homeless man in Kyev, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the feeling of helplessness that he and so many other Ukrainians feel.
“The house [landlord] throws them out. The neighbors throw them out. And a person simply goes out on the street and freezes. Where can he go?”
The government has provided thousands of heated tents across the country, so that Brilyuk and other homeless men and women can warm up temporarily. But other than that, the available resources to address this problem are scant.
The Ukrainian economy is in shambles, burdened by heavy debts, lower international demand for its exports, and a weakened currency. The problem is even harder to address given the country’s huge shadow economy – so many labor agreements and financial transactions take place under the table that official estimates on unemployment, income, and GDP growth are intractably fuzzy.
Lately, it seems like everyone is bailing ship. A number of international banks have dumped their Ukrainian subsidiaries in recent months. Credit rating agencies including Standard & Poors and Moody’s have given Ukraine a downgrade, assigning the country a negative outlook. Even the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned from his post in a sudden announcement on Dec. 3, though he was reinstated 10 days later.
Amid all this turmoil, Ukraine’s homeless are likely to be left in the cold for quite a while longer – people like Brilyuk will continue to fight for survival on the freezing streets of Kyev.
“Give us warmth, some comfort, a place to wash, to shave, to clean ourselves up,” he said. “I don't have any money, I don't have anything. You can see the kind of shape I'm in. If we're needed by this state, then we want to work.”