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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Veteran Freezes to Death in Siberia

Like other residents in his apartment block, 81-year-old Nikolai Bobkov was used to the bitter cold that comes with the eastern Siberian winter in Ust-Kut.

This year, the World War II veteran lived in his one-room apartment without central heating for a second winter in a row, patiently waiting with several hundred other residents for the city to make good on promises to repair the heating system. He huddled over a small electric heater as the outside temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees Celsius at the beginning of this month.

Then the neighborhood's electricity was cut off Dec. 5.

Bobkov's frozen body was found Friday -- two days after the power was restored. Television showed sheets of ice covering his apartment walls and icicles hanging from the radiators. The water in the toilet was a solid block of ice.

The death has shocked Ust-Kut, whose chronic heating woes won national attention last December when 11-year-old Pavel Shvedkov asked President Vladimir Putin during a televised call-in show whether he would have to repeat a year at School No. 9 because classes had been canceled for lack of heat.

Putin replied that heating was the responsibility of the local administration, and officials in the city of 69,000 were quick to promise to fix the heating system.

Bobkov, who lived alone and suffered from a heart ailment, was found after worried neighbors noticed that the lights in his apartment were on day and night and asked the police to break down the door, according to news reports.

Doctors who examined Bobkov's body said his hands and feet were covered with frostbite, Ust-Kut prosecutor Nikolai Lyubshinov said Monday.

"The autopsy has raised some questions about the cause of the death," he said by telephone from Ust-Kut.

He did not elaborate.

He said an investigation was opened into Bobkov's death Sunday.

Switching off heating and electricity in the all-too-common disputes between power companies and regional and local administrations is nothing new in the regions, but incidences of people freezing to death in their apartments are rare.

Heating problems started in Ust-Kut, some 500 kilometers north of the regional capital of Irkutsk, in 1996. Electricity is switched off up to three times a day.

An unidentified Ust-Kut official told NTV television that the city lacks the money to keep utilities running and carry out major repairs to the dilapidated heating system.

The official said that the lion's share of Ust-Kut's budget is spent on wages and heating fuel, and that the city had had to put up municipal property as collateral for a loan to obtain additional fuel.

Bobkov's neighbors told NTV that they have to wear valenki and coats at all times at home because heaters do little to keep the cold at bay -- and the electricity is often off anyway.

Lyubshinov said that in addition to investigating Bobkov's death, prosecutors have opened a separate case into "the illegal deprivation of heating.

"But it is unclear who will be held responsible in both cases," Lyubshinov said.

The Prosecutor General's Office in Moscow is overseeing both cases, he said.

The regional power company, Irkutskenergo, and Ust-Kut's Mayor's Office could not be reached for comment Monday.

While prosecutors pondered over who should be charged in Bobkov's death, seven apartment buildings remained without heating Monday, while outside temperatures fell to minus 30 degrees, Interfax reported.

Moreover, School No. 9, where Shvedkov is supposed to attend classes, has been without heat this winter.

When Putin fields telephone calls from around the country in his second annual call-in program this Thursday, the boy plans to pose his heating question once again to the president, Interfax said.