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Russia: The Harsh Life Of The Far East

By Heidi Brown

Nakhodka, Russia Far East; 27 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Zhenya Bedrov, a shy, slight 15-year-old boy, stands in the doorway of his apartment and shivers. No, he says, there's no heat or hot water today, just as there was none last week, last month, or even since the Winter began.

Zhenya lives in the southern district of Nakhodka, a port town of 200,000 that is struggling with the same energy problems that plague the entire Russian Far East. While power cuts and even water cuts have become a part of life in this area in the past five years, what's really getting folks down in Nakhodka is the heating crisis.

In a place where very few have washing machines, and dishwashers are unheard of, the lack of hot water means a major work-load increase for women.

Zhenya says his mom heats water for dishes twice a day; this takes half an hour. She heats water for 40 minutes to hand-wash the family's clothes once a week. This means carrying the water from the stove to the bathtub to scrub the socks, shirts, and jeans. To warm their homes, some Nakhodka residents have invested in space heaters, but these are basically ineffective and cost several hundred dollars. Water heaters -- a huge luxury -- cost about $700.

Heat in the rest of the city came back last weekend. For the residents of the southern district, though, the arrival of Spring is the only thing that will make their lives easier. And as the city waits for the sun to warm the air, Zhenya still sees his breath when he wakes up in the morning, and at night when he goes to sleep.

It was the middle of the month when the Primorye (Maritime) Territory in Russia's Far East proclaimed a state-of-emergency over a lack of fuel at power plants. Reports at the time said that unpaid customer bills for electricity and heat had left Dalenergo power company without funds to purchase power from other generators, or to buy supplies of coal and fuel oil to power plants in the territory. Indoor temperatures in Nakhodka fell to five degrees Centigrade.

As today's nationwide strike in Russia progresses, union leaders planned to halt rail traffic in various parts of the Federation -- including, the line between Vladivostok and Nakhodka.

Residents tell our correspondent that they feel forgotten by Moscow. They say the only things for which they are remembered is that the name of the Russian oil tanker that sank, spoiling Japanese shorelines in January, was named the "Nakhodka." And, they cite this month's case of the 67-year-old Nakhodka grandmother sentended to eight years in prison for smuggling weapons between Lithuania and Russia's Far East.

Heidi Brown is a Vladivostok-based, freelance journalist who contributes to RFE/RL.