Gas dispute leaves hundreds of thousands freezing in Ukraine

November 13, 2018 - 5:36 am

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are without heating at a time when temperatures are plunging due a long-standing dispute between the national gas company and regional utility providers.

Residents in Kryvy Rih, a city of 600,000 in Ukraine's south-east, on Monday seized the building of the local gas company demanding that the heating be turned on. Temperatures are below zero at night in the area. In the town of Smila, in central Ukraine, residents on Tuesday blocked roads leading into town, demanding that authorities provide heating.

Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko said last week that at least six towns with a combined population over 1 million remain without heating.

The troubles with central heating come after national gas company Naftagaz raised gas prices that some struggling municipalities said were impossibly high for them to pay. Naftagaz has said it will resume supply to utilities companies and powers stations only after they clear the debts or pay for supplies in advance.

Ukraine is struggling with a flagging economy and a separatist conflict in the east which is weighing down on the nation's finances. One of the conditions for the International Monetary Fund to continue providing Ukraine with loans was to increase gas prices by 23 percent starting Nov. 1. Bills for hot water and heating are expected to increase by another 15 percent on Dec. 1.

The Ukrainian government stopped buying gas from Russia following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, citing unreasonably high prices. As a result Ukraine started to buy gas from European companies, some of which resell the gas they buy from Russia.

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