Russia: Homeless Battling Brutal Cold Spring

Katie Stallard, Moscow Correspondent

Russia celebrated Maslenitsa, the traditional end of winter festival, a fortnight ago - but the weather does not seem to have taken the hint.

Large stretches of the Moscow river remain frozen, the streets are still packed with ice and snow.

The state weather service says the country is experiencing its coldest March for more than half a century.

Last week, temperatures dropped to -25C overnight.

The unusually cold spring is having serious consequences for the capital's homeless.

Sky News joined a mobile field kitchen run by a charity handing out food near one of Moscow's busiest stations.

The crowd began to gather just before 5pm, standing to one side of the busy pavement as the capital's rush hour hurried home.

Several people asked us to promise our footage would not be shown on Russian television as they were too ashamed for their families to see them.

Volunteers from the Just Help charity arrived to hand out small pots of pasta from the back of a van, with a couple of slices of bread and a hot drink.

It wasn't much, but for many of those gathered it was the only hot food they would eat all day, and a brief respite from the relentless cold.

One of the men, Yuri, told us: "When you are out in the cold 24 hours a day your whole body is cold all the time, you feel like you are freezing.

"Cold weather makes it much worse, you are losing your health. That's why I am trying to eat something hot once a day, trying to take care of myself."

Another man, Augustin, who had both hands amputated, sobbed as he told us: "I had a bladder infection and frostbitten feet, I even got into the hospital because of it, they gave me a surgery.

"My legs were really badly damaged, but the doctor managed to save them. This doctor is the best."

The charity is run by Dr Elizaveta Glinka, but everybody here knows her as 'Dr Liza'.

As she handed out warm socks and medical supplies from an ambulance, she told Sky News: "Many more of them [the homeless] die when spring comes.

"In winter they understand that it's dangerous and are more alert. In March and April, they die from road accidents and from cold as they start sleeping outside.

"Around 30 homeless people freeze every month - those are official statistics. When it gets warmer and the snow piles melt, there will be many bodies found."

A young man called Sasha told us he had been on the streets since he was eight years old and offered to show us how he survived the cold.

He took us to the railway station where he explained that sometimes he slept in the doorways, but often he would just ride around on the metro.

A single ticket is valid all day on the Moscow underground as long as you don't leave the station.

One route, he told us, takes three hours and let's you get some sleep.

Sasha said: "It's very cold in winter, I often get ill. It's much harder to find food. I have to sleep in railway stations and on the metro, but of course the metro is closed at night.

"Winter is a very hard season."

With that he headed off back down to the underground - disappearing into the crowds to take the trains in circles until the stations close.

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