Kiev residents ski down streets after record snowfall
The Ukrainian capital struggled to clear its streets on Monday after a record-breaking snowfall, as some residents took advantage of an official day off to ski down the streets while drivers fumed in vast traffic jams.
The Ukrainian authorities told public sector workers in Kiev and the surrounding region to stay home after what forecasters described as the biggest snowfall in the capital for over a century.
The dramatic snowdrifts, described by locals as an "Apocalypse" or "Armageddon", forced the authorities to commandeer the military and use armed personnel carriers to tow away broken-down trolley buses and lorries.
After a blizzard that began on Friday and only died down on Sunday, many central streets in the city of three million were still not cleaned on Monday, slowing traffic to a crawl.
The government admitted that Kiev authorities did not have enough vehicles to clear the snow and called on state transport and construction companies to lend their trucks to help out.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov himself fell victim to the snowstorm after his motorcade got stuck on a snow-covered bridge across the Dnieper River that flows through Kiev, his press service said.
"The situation is very difficult," Azarov said in a statement.
The snowfall set a record for Kiev since weather records began in 1881, said the head of the national weather service Mykola Kulbida.
In places, the snow cover is more than 60 centimetres (24 inches) deep, the government said. On Saturday alone, more than the monthly average of snow fell.
The authorities declared a state of emergency in Kiev and declared Monday a day off after hundreds or even thousands of inhabitants spent Friday night stranded in unprecedented traffic jams that lasted overnight.
"No one took care of us, during the whole night I did not see any snow ploughs," complained one driver, named only as Omsa, on an Internet forum, saying she spent more than 13 hours in a traffic jam before abandoning her car and walking several kilometres to the nearest metro station.
"At around 8 am I broke down crying, because I could not take it any more... I wanted to die."
Numerous cars remained buried under thick snow Monday and traffic jams persisted as the city authorities said that only some public transport had resumed.
The chief of the city administration, Olexander Popov apologised to residents and admitted "certain errors" by the authorities, according to news website Korrespondent.net.
"The efforts to restore traffic flow in Kiev are continuing," an official at the Emergency Situations ministry, Grigory Marchenko, told journalists.
Some residents took advantage of the weather to enjoy winter sports right in the city centre.
Some skied along the snow-covered streets, while others attached ropes to the back of cars for a high-speed ride.
The historic Andriyivskyy Descent, a steep, cobbled street popular with tourists, attracted lovers of Alpine skiing and snowboarding.
The bad weather also prompted shortages of bread and dairy products, which were impossible to find in many stores during the weekend, media reported.
The traffic jams even affected funerals because the city's main cemetery was forced to close down, senior city offficial Olexander Mazurchak told local website Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, but he added: "The problems will be solved by Tuesday."
Residents were concerned that the huge amounts of snow had to be removed quickly to avoid the risk of flooding, as temperatures are expected to rise above freezing by March 30.