Russian winter brings dangers to its most European city
Every winter, Russia's most European city battles traditional Russian problems as snow blocks streets and falling icicles injure and even kill pedestrians.
Amid severe winter, the former capital of the Russian tsars -- conceived by Peter the Great as a "window to Europe" for a country which stretches to the Pacific -- Saint Petersburg suffers from problems unimaginable in Western Europe.
Huge snowdrifts make Saint Petersburg's streets impassable for cars and pedestrians, who risk being killed by huge icicles falling from roofs.
"Attention, danger of falling ice!" street signs read and pavements are often closed to pedestrians where the risk of death is particularly high.
A resident of the city's Petrogradskaya district, Galina Gvardeyko, 75, said she has no confidence in the municipality and prefers not to leave her house at all, pending a salutary thaw.
Every year people are killed in Russian cities by blocks of ice that fall from roofs.
Within the space of just one week, 300 people were injured as they slipped on an icy sidewalk or were hurt by a falling icicle, according to government statistics.
The first two victims of this winter in Saint Petersburg were killed in car accidents as they walked on a road to bypass a slippery pavement.
A two-year-old girl died under a dustcart's wheels as her parents were pulling her in a sleigh.
Another victim, Irina Ganelina, 89, was killed when a snowplough ran over her. The driver has said he couldn't see her behind a huge pile of snow.
"Mom survived the siege of Leningrad (the city's Soviet-era name) by the Nazis (1941-1943) and few days before her death she remembered that even at that time she had not seen such chaos in the city," her son Lev Lourie, a renowned historian of Saint Petersburg, told local media.
These two deaths have prompted a wave of indignation in the city of some five million.
Famous actor Mikhail Trukhin published an angry open letter to the governor of the city, Valentina Matvienko.
"Saint Petersburg's streets and yards have become a nightmare during the last two particularly snowy winters," he wrote.
Matvienko has recently told the city council that municipal services' work was still "unsatisfactory", though "better than last winter."
The city has purchased this year some 600 snowploughs and over 2,000 people are employed to clear the city every day, according to the local government.
Matvienko has proposed to mobilise military academies and even homeless people to clear the city of snow.
"Why not prison inmates and hospital patients who have nothing to do," local resident Alexander Yakovlev said, adding that he spends half an hour every morning digging his car out of the snow.
Recently, enterprising Russians have started to offer car owners a paid service to free their vehicles trapped in snow.
© 2010 AFP