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article imageExtreme cold snap hits Russia ahead of Epiphany icy plunges

By AFP     Jan 18, 2018 in World

Temperatures in Siberia fell to extremely low levels on Thursday as Russian Christians prepared to plunge into ice holes in traditional celebrations marking the baptism of Jesus Christ.

In the Sakha Republic, a region in Russia's Far East around 5,300 kilometres (3,300 miles) east of Moscow, temperatures dropped to minus 68 degrees celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit).

Local authorities had already ordered schools closed when temperatures reached minus 65 celsius on Wednesday. The republic includes the village of Oymyakon, considered the coldest inhabited place on Earth.

The extreme cold spell comes ahead of Epiphany celebrations on Thursday evening and Friday when Orthodox Christians plunge into ice holes cut into lakes and rivers to commemorate Christ's baptism in the River Jordan.

Epiphany concludes a holy period called Svyatki, or "holy days", which starts on Orthodox Christmas on January 7. It is traditionally associated with particularly harsh frosts.

In Norilsk, a city beyond the Arctic Circle, the municipal authorities banned residents from plunging into ice holes on Thursday as temperatures were expected to fall to minus 52 celsius with strong winds.

Russians living in some of the coldest places on earth have been posting photographs and videos of their frozen faces on social media.

"The cold of Epiphany has arrived," said one Russian in a YouTube video, showing off his frozen eye lashes and hair.

Another boasted of swimming in icy waters amid air temperatures of minus 44 celsius in the Sakha Republic.

Near Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake, temperatures were forecast to plunge 30 degrees overnight to minus 56 celsius on Friday.

In Ulan-Ude, the main city of the neighbouring Buryatia region, thermometers recorded minus 32 celsius this week, with further drops predicted in the coming days.

Meanwhile in Moscow it was a mild minus 7 celsius on Thursday as heavy snowfall slowed traffic. Over 10,000 city workers were employed to clear roads and pavements, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

In neighbouring Belarus, police in the southern Brahin region saved a moose that fell into a river and became stuck because of the ice that had formed around it.

"I have been patrolling this zone for six years, but it is the first time that we saved a wild animal (because of the cold)," policeman Sergei Guroshko was quoted as saying in a statement released by local authorities.

oc/am/nla

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