CNN: Ukraine’s emergency services under pressure as winter bites

Suffering in the grip of a brutal winter where temperatures have not risen above freezing in nearly a month, Ukraine has seen a wave of deaths related to the cold, and the country's ambulance service is inundated with calls for help.

On one recent night, emergency services raced through the streets of the capital, Kiev, in response to a call about a homeless man passed out in the freezing weather.

The man got drunk and either fell asleep or dropped unconscious outside, putting him at risk of frostbite.

Vladimir Poddubniy, a passerby, found him, brought him indoors and called for an ambulance.

When paramedics arrived, they found the homeless man, who gave his name simply as Kostya, squatting drunk on the floor. His hand was so swollen, he could barely hold his cigarette.

Poddubniy said the man was freezing to death, so he brought him inside.

"I felt sorry for him. But I also didn't want to find a body in the morning," Poddubniy said.

Paramedics determined Kostya needed emergency hospital care for frostbite, and helped the intoxicated man to his feet. Kostya was so drunk, he could barely walk down the stairs.

iReport: Beauty and danger of Europe's snow

But in a country where the cold has claimed at least 112 lives in the past month — 90% of them alcohol-related, according to the government — Kostya can consider himself lucky to be alive.

About 3,000 people have been hospitalized because of the cold since January 27, officials said.

Temperatures remained well below the average Thursday, with the mercury falling to -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Ukraine.

Authorities there have set up an emergency hospital to deal with people suffering from cold-related conditions, and distributed 3,000 emergency relief tents across the country, they said. The tents are heated, and people with nowhere else to go can get hot food and drinks.

Dr. Anatoliiy Vershigora, doctor-in-chief at an emergency help station in Kiev, said many of those suffering from frostbite and hypothermia and some of those who died were alcoholics — but others had been drinking in the mistaken belief it would help keep them warm.

Ukraine's capital, Kiev, has more than 14,000 homeless people, among the most vulnerable to winter's bitter chill, authorities said.

"It is an unfortunate fact that a lot of homeless people are alcoholic or dependent on other substances — it may be why they are homeless in the first place," said Joe Lowry, a spokesman for the International Red Cross in Europe.

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