Still shivering as gas dispute continues

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

LISA MULLINS: It's no small problem when you find your gas turned off, especially at the coldest time of the year. But that's what happened last week to hundreds of thousands of people in central and Eastern Europe. It stemmed from a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Russia accused Ukraine of illegally siphoning off gas that was meant for the rest of Europe. Well, it appeared the dispute had ended today, but the gas is still not getting to those shivering customers in Europe. The BBC's Nick Thorpe is in Budapest, Hungary. How cold is it there, Nick?

NICK THORPE: Well, it's several degrees below freezing, and a very vivid visual illustration of that is we now have ice flows in the river Danube, which flows through the center of this city. So it's been pretty cold here for this past week and throughout the duration so far, anyway, of this gas disruption crisis.

MULLINS: While it's been going on for the past week. How are people there coping?

THORPE: This has not been the worst country hit, Hungary. We have, perhaps the most difficult aspect of it has been the smog. As the gas powered stations switch to something called distillate, which is a kind of fuel oil, instead of the kind of gas they normally burn. This is much more polluting. Not only is it 30 to 40 percent more expensive, but its also much more polluting. So the mayor of Budapest over the weekend announced that traffic restrictions as a result ? prevent traffic exhaust adding to the pollution over the city now. So on even days like today, only cars whose registration plates end in an even number are allowed on the streets, and on odd days like tomorrow or yesterday, only those cars like my own, in fact which have odd numbers. So that's just one illustration of the ways people have been trying to take to cut back on the pollution, which is a direct result of this gas disruption.

MULLINS: Okay. So that's one of the official means. What are people doing on their own to try and lessen their own reliance on gas?

THORPE: Different ways, here. Some of the schools in the worst hit areas ? less so in Hungary but more so in other parts of the region have been actually sending the pupils home. They can't keep the schoolrooms warm. Also, individual factories have been asked to cut back on their use. Big car factories -- Suzuki in Western Hungary, across the border in Slovakia, Volkswagen, and Persia Sitrom they also had to suspend production there. Also, individuals. There was a big shopping mall near where my office is in Budapest. They cut heating there to about a third of the temperature it normally is. People were advised ? shoppers and shopkeepers were advised to put on an extra sweater to come to work or to come shopping in that particular shopping mall.

MULLINS: Let me ask you this. Is the population of Hungary that's shivering right now blaming Russia? Blaming Ukraine? Blaming anyone?

THORPE: I think there are a lot of conspiracy theories about it. It's only such a short time since the end of the Communist era here; people don't really differentiate between the two countries. They are feeling though that they're perhaps slipping back a little bit under the influence of the east. Some years ago, when they joined the European Union, they felt that they had finally joined Western Europe, that they were safe from the Russian bear once and for all. But I think this crisis has illustrated to many people that they are still within Russia's sphere of influence.

MULLINS: The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest, Hungary. Thanks very much.

THORPE: Thank you.

MULLINS: South of Hungary, in Bulgaria, Bessaslava Stoyanava writes for a women's magazine in the Capital, Sofia. She says Bulgarians are doing the best they can.

BESSASLAVA STOYANAVA: That's one of the population's concerns. The situation is not extremely bad in spite of the fact that the temperatures outside are below freezing. The reason for that is that the companies supplying the population's central heating have managed to switch to alternative source of energy. But the fact is that the economy of the country is suffering greatly. Actually, the Prime Minister announced today that so far for that week that we are not getting gas, damages are for about 100 million Lev, which is about $70 million dollars. Right now, the gas reserves that Bulgaria has are limited. So a lot of enterprises that are usually using gas for their business are closed right now, and so people are losing money because they are not working, actually. Basically, part of the economy of the country is totally shut down.

MULLINS: Now from Bulgaria to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Temperatures have been hovering in that area, Bosnia-Herzegovina, around 10 degrees Fahrenheit for the past week. Gas supplies have been spotty in Sarajevo. In stores, electric heaters have been flying off the shelves. Many families are moving in with relatives who still have heat. Eva Vicusich lives and works in Sarajevo. She says many people are being reminded of the terrible days of the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

EVA VICUSICH: We are fine in terms of food and stuff, but really people are very, very upset because the situation now, to be so cold, reminds them of the years of the war. People have also been taking their old stoves, which they were using during the war, and all of this is creating a very kind of negative feeling among the citizens of Sarajevo because as you probably know, the city has been besieged for almost 1,400 days. People know very well what its like to be without heating, without electricity, without running water. So I think probably there's going to be some

political pressure to make sure that in the future, Bosnia has some additional either reserves or additional sources of gas, because this is a very uncomfortable situation for our country.

MULLINS: That's Eva Vicusich, who lives and works in Sarajevo.