June 15, 2002
Zhytomyr is a city of 300,000 people that have been without running hot water for two years. And this is no tropical country where a hot shower is a luxury. In winter it gets bitterly cold here. Living without running hot water is pretty uncomfortable.
Why has it happened? It all has to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic transformation that has brought with it. In soviet days, the power generation company also produced hot water that was piped to all of the city's buildings. We don't know whether the supply was always on or only at certain times of the day. But we do know that the hot water pipes are now always off, because when the company could no longer dip its hand into the government's pocket, it had to start charging users for the gas needed to produce the hot water. The users, however, were mostly too impoverished to pay the real cost and so the system broke down and the pipes went cold.
Of course if you have the money, you buy a small instant hot water heater and have it installed in your apartment. Most people, especially those on fixed incomes like pensioners don't have such money. It seems someone on a government pension gets as little as U.S.$30.00/month. So what do people do? They heat water on the stove and bathe less frequently. Just like Jan and her family used to do 50 years ago in England.
We came to Zhytomyr primarily to meet a family of Stotlands that we thought might be distant relatives of ours. We visited the home of Boris Stotland and his daughter Tanya and there met Boris's sister Fanya and her daughter Natasha and Natasha's husband Sergei. Boris and Tanya are both unwell and both blame the Chernobyl accident. Boris was the director of Narodichi's cultural center before retiring and Tanya worked in the Narodichi library that we visited.
After eating a very substantial lunch with the Stotlands, Natasha and Sergei accompanied us on a walking tour of downtown Zhytomyr and then helped us find the bus back to Kiev. We found the downtown very pleasant and were interedted to see not only the Cathedral being refurbished, but also at least one synagogue in operation and being restored thanks to help from friends in London.