The Last of the Summer Whine

Nothing changes in Russia, or so it seems.  But when change does occur, it happens quickly.  Three weeks ago, the temperature in the mornings on the way to work was about 12 or 13 degrees Celcius.  Two weeks ago it was about 8 or 9.  Last week it was 4 or 5.  This week it is between 1 and 3 degrees when I start my car in the morning.  The trees, which two weeks ago were a deep, dark green have started changing to all manner or reds, yellows, and oranges.  The trees, like the people, know what is coming, and are powerless to stop it.  The summer is definitely over, autumn is well established, and winter is on its way.

I have now been in Sakhalin for over a year, and I can enter the ranks of those who bore newcomers to death with tales beginning “Last winter…” and “When I first arrived…”.  Anyway, ahem, when I first arrived it was autumn and we had to wait until early November before the authorities switched on the district heating that everyone relies upon to keep warm.  This year, the authorities have excelled themselves and on 1st October the heating came on across the whole town.  What’s more, the power cuts and water shut-offs which plagued us so much last autumn have barely occurred.  Everyone is thinking it, some are whispering it, but nobody dares say out it loud lest they tempt fate, but: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is getting modern!!  The authorities are getting their act together!!  Not so drainage wise.  Last week we had a few days of torrential rain, and the streets filled with puddles upon which Sakhalin Energy’s environmental team carried out feasibility studies to examine the option of relocating pacific grey whales distressed by their pipelines in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Pausing for a second, I seem to have been rambling somewhat.  Where was I?  That’s right, the approaching winter.  It is noticeably colder this autumn than last, and everyone has become an amateur meteorologist by confidentally predicting that this winter will be a harsh one.  I’m saying the same thing, but really I haven’t got a clue.  All I know is that I now see everyone wearing increasingly heavy jackets on the streets in the mornings and evenings (midday is still warmed by a very bright sun), and I am glad our heating is on.

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5 Responses to The Last of the Summer Whine

  1. I wonder if the heating is on early because there is an election. Not that I am cynical or anything. It’s a shame that they have stopped elections for Moscow’s mayor as it meant that all the pot holes got filled in.

  2. secretdubai says:

    What do you mean by district heating? Like the compound A/C you get in Dubai – ie the actual heating in individual people’s houses, but centrally served? Or do you mean heating in shared amenities?

    I can’t imagine not being able to heat a home until the authorities allowed it. Can you use electric heaters and stuff?

  3. Tim Newman says:


    Heating is done by piping water through radiators through every room in every apartment in every building, from a centralised hot water supply which is (I think) produced at the power station at the end of town. Huge water pipes criss-cross the town, most in an appalling state of repair. In other words, almost no building has its independent supply of heating (unless you buy a plug-in electric heater, which many people have).

    Other than a crude valve on each radiator which sort of regulates the temperature output between Jesus-Christ-you-could-fry-an-egg-on-that hot and unbelievably hot, there is no way of controlling the heating in your apartment, and you are at the mercy of the authorities deciding when they will switch on the hot water supply.

    I remember being in a St. Petersburg apartment in November when the first snow fell and there was no heating. I kept warm by wearing a few layers and switching on all the hobs of the gas stove, lighting the oven, and leaving its door open. As I understand it, carbon monoxide poisoning is common in Russia for this reason.

  4. Keefieboy says:

    Lucky you – our apartmentette lacks both air conditioning and heating! (Landlord due for some hassle shortly)

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