Dozens die in Ukraine's cold snap

Emergency workers dig out a car trapped in snow in western Ukraine. Photo: December 2012 The cold spell is set to continue, meteorologists warn

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At least 83 people have died in Ukraine from a cold spell that has been gripping the country, officials say.

Temperatures as low as -23C (-9F) and heavy snowfall this month have left the capital Kiev and most of the country under a thick frozen layer.

In western areas, vehicles were trapped in a three-day traffic jam stretching at one point about 20km (12 miles).

The severe weather is also affecting neighbouring Bulgaria and Romania, where six people have reportedly died.

Meteorologists warn that the cold snap in the region could continue and temperatures may drop even further.

'Heating shelters'

On Friday, a senior official from Ukraine's health ministry said that 83 people were now known to have died from the cold. Most of the victims had been found on the streets.

Volodymyr Yurchenko also said that more than 500 people were still being treated in hospitals across the country.

Nearly 100 towns and villages across the country remain without electricity, and emergency crews are continuing their work to try to restore power.

Army units have also been deployed to help clear the snow on major motorways.

Thousands of "heating shelters" have been set up where those in need - particularly the homeless and the elderly - can receive a hot meal and a warm place to sleep.

But the authorities have been criticised for being slow to react to the adverse weather.

Not everyone is taken care of, critics say, and a number of homeless people know nothing about the emergencies shelters.

"I sleep in the cellar of an abandoned building. I have a roof over my head and nothing else," Dima, a homeless man in Kiev, told the BBC.

Last winter, more than 100 people died from the cold in Ukraine.

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