Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cold Comfort for Losers, in the Heating Game

It's on near the Mayakovskaya metro but off four blocks away; on near Kievsky station but off on nearby Dorogomilovskaya Street. As the fall encloses Moscow, heating once again is a lottery.

The rumbling and coughing of heating pipes going into action has comforted hundreds of thousands of Muscovites across the city since temperatures dropped to near freezing last week. But many others have been forced to wait their turn in two layers of clothing, huddling around the gas stove or taking long hot baths -- if they have hot water, that is.

The good news is that relief is in sight. Boris Medvedev, first deputy head of the city's energy department, promised Tuesday that every Muscovite would be warm by Oct. 10 -- or failing that, by Oct. 15 at the latest.

His department only gives a full go-ahead to the city's heating stations when the average temperature drops below 8 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days. This has not happened yet but is expected later this week, he said.

In the meantime, those without heating will just have to put up with it, as something else to grumble about.

"Our baby is very cold," said Valery Novikov, father of 8-month-old Nastya and reporter for the Krestyanka magazine, who lives on Leninsky Prospekt. "Last night she was crying."

Novikov said Nastya was dressed up as if she was out on the street, adding that he kept the gas stove blasting in the kitchen during meals. Although he also used a small electric heater that he bought when heating was switched off in the middle of a cold spell last spring, he said he was afraid it might short-circuit and set the room on fire.

"It's all still the same Soviet system," he said. "They have a plan, and they don't listen to people. Switching on the heat means more work for them. Maybe they are trying to economize."

According to Medvedev, of the 29,000 apartment buildings in Moscow, over 20,000 already have the heat turned on for tests; barring burst pipes or other problems, the heat will stay on and be raised gradually as the weather turns colder, he said.

Medvedev said it takes several weeks to turn on the heat because pipes have to be opened up in each building. Not every one of the city's 273 heating stations is ready yet and not every meter of the 3,000 kilometers of major ducts and countless more smaller pipes has been made leakproof.

Hospitals, schools and children's homes get heated first, then apartment buildings, and only then offices and factories, he said.

An informal poll among Muscovites showed little pattern in who gets heat first, with a lucky few living a stone's throw from less fortunate citizens.

The heating appears to have been switched on first in the center and in a few fortunate outlying suburbs. A popular theory that the most prestigious districts get priority treatment did not appear to hold true. Some neighborhoods popular among government officials, such as Yugo-Zapadnaya, have their heating turned on, but it is still off on at least part of Rublyovskoye Shosse, home to President Boris Yeltsin, a number of parliament deputies and many expatriates.

Medvedev said that the heating was switched on first in regions where the stations were best prepared, and denied that any exceptions were made.

Medvedev said it was much more difficult to switch off the heat than to turn it on. With warmer weather expected next week, Muscovites could be cursing his department once again. In one new housing project in Degunino, apartments will soon be equipped with their own thermostats, but Medvedev said the city lacked funds to make these a city-wide feature anytime soon.