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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministers Take Heat For Power Outages

President Vladimir Putin has ordered ministers to end the heating and power cuts that have made life a misery in vast regions hit by bitter cold.

"Who is responsible for the situation in the eastern regions of the country? We talk a lot about needed structural changes in the government and its departments and we set up new structures, but nobody is taking specific, personal responsibility for the current situation," Putin said Friday.

Putin told senior ministers that he would not accept as an excuse that officials were surprised by the ferocity of the winter. "We cannot take seriously the references to the severe cold," Putin told top economic, energy, transport and judicial officials at the Kremlin meeting. "Where are the resources, the reserves, the contingency plans for such a turn of events?

"Are we to conclude that when the temperature falls to a certain level, we doom people to a slow, freezing death?" he said.

Putin said plans for structural changes had gone nowhere, with "departments created and then simply disbanded."

Television has broadcast pictures for weeks of frustrated residents dressed in coats and scarves in apartments with walls coated in ice. Schools have been put onto short hours and hospitals forced to curtail services.

Residents of districts near the Pacific port of Vladivostok received some relief in the past two days with the arrival of coal to keep power and domestic heating stations running.

Local energy companies say a surge in demand for electricity due to the plunging temperatures has overloaded their aging energy networks.

At least two other ministerial meetings this week have been devoted to the issue and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promised far eastern regions on Thursday that energy supplies would return to normal by next month.

But officials in the city of Artyom, outside Vladivostok, declared a state of emergency Friday. Several thousand residents remained in unheated apartments with temperatures standing at about minus 14 degrees Celsius.

A deputy manager at the UES division in Tambov south of Moscow has been taken into custody in connection with the death of a World War II veteran, regional prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Nadezhda Istomina said Friday. The 73-year-old man died Monday when his artificial respirator went off during a power cut.

UES said in a statement that the fault lay with a municipal enterprise that redistributes the power.

Several other officials have been indicted in connection with disrupted power supplies and ministerial teams have been sent to the Far East to investigate conditions. (Reuters, AP)