The Moscow Times reports on the glories of holiday revelry in Vladimir Putin's Russia:
Flames and frost took the joy out of the extended New Year's holidays for thousands of people.
Fires killed 12 Moscow residents -- eight of whom were drunk -- in the first three days of 2008, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. In all, 108 fires broke out in the city over the three days, and those that led to deaths were caused by fireworks and other New Year's festivities, Moscow fire chief Viktor Klimkin told reporters late last week. Fireworks injured a total of 50 people, including 10 children, he said.
The first week of January accounts for more fires than any other period of the year, according to statistics from the Emergency Situations Ministry. Moscow firefighters typically get 100 to 150 calls per week, but the figure jumps to 400 the week after New Year's. Moscow city authorities considered banning fireworks last month but then decided to allow them at specially designated playgrounds near apartment buildings. A 2,000 ruble ($80) fine, however, is imposed on people who set off fireworks elsewhere. Police could not say Tuesday how many fines, if any, had been collected.
A total of 315 people died and 953 were injured in more than 2,000 fires nationwide in the first two days of January, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. In most cases, lit cigarettes -- not fireworks -- were to blame. The cold also took its toll on merrymakers. Five Moscow residents froze to death on Sunday alone, when the temperature neared minus 20 degrees Celsius, the coldest so far this winter. An additional 352 people suffered frostbite. In all, 75 people have died of hypothermia in Moscow since Nov. 1, Interfax reported Monday, citing the Health and Social Development Ministry.
Elsewhere, thousands of people suffered in subfreezing temperatures after crumbling infrastructure left them without heat, hot water and electricity. Heating and hot water failed in dozens of apartment buildings in the cities of Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Yakutsk on New Year's Eve as outside temperatures fell below minus 30 C. It took emergency workers several days to complete repairs. In Krasnodar, 40,000 people were left without heating and hot water on Jan. 4 after a short circuit disabled a cable at a pumping station. The outside temperature was around minus 8 C. The climate was milder in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, but thousands of people still took to the streets and built barricades to block traffic on local thoroughfares after heating, water and electricity was turned off on New Year's Eve. Repairs were completed after several days of street protests, at which participants demanded the resignation of Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov and Dagestani President Mukhu Aliyev.
Separately, 12 people were arrested early Jan. 1 after a drunken street brawl between about 20 Dagestanis and 20 Azeris near the Altufyevo metro station in northern Moscow, Ekho Moskvy radio reported, citing police. Four men were hospitalized with knife wounds.
Other holiday violence included two grenade explosions that killed one person and injured six others. A man pulled the pin on a grenade in a cafe in the Altai region on Saturday, killing himself and injuring four, Interfax reported. On the same day, a train driver detonated a grenade, injuring himself and an off-duty police officer in the Omsk region. It was not clear what had prompted the men's actions.
On a brighter side, 11 Russian seamen were rescued on Friday after surviving a shipwreck and being stranded for three months on a desolate patch of the Pacific coast in the Far East. The group, which included three women, found an abandoned border guard base and survived by eating flour left behind by the servicemen and heating the place with pieces of old furniture. When food supplies ran low, five sailors set out to seek help. After four days of walking, they stumbled across some military servicemen who sent rescuers for the others.And that's not all. The MT continues:
The extended New Year's holiday cost the economy 700 billion rubles ($28.5 billion), or about 2 percent of the gross domestic product, economists said Thursday. Most businesses across the country shut down for the 10-day holiday, which began Dec. 30 and ran through Jan. 8, the day after Orthodox Christmas. In addition, the regular work week got off to a slow start Wednesday, with many workers putting off their return to work until next week. Some of those who did come back found it difficult to get into the swing of things after the long break. Vladimir Bragin, an economist at Trust Bank, said the slowdown in economic activity costs Russia dearly. "I think that 10 days of pure holidays mean about 20 days of stress and hangovers. This is too high a price," Bragin told Russia Today television.
In comparison, the Christmas holiday in Britain costs the local economy only $1.5 billion.