It is quite rare for a senior politician to start a speech by announcing to the audience that he hasn’t taken a shower that morning. But that was the opening line deployed by Hryhoriy Nemyria, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, when I saw him speak in Kiev yesterday. He was not making a point about his personal hygiene. Rather, he was highlighting the fact that half of Kiev has been without hot water for the last week or so. The vice prime-minister blamed mismanagement by the mayor of Kiev – a political opponent, as it happens. Whoever is at fault, it’s a pretty grisly situation. The temperature outside is minus seven.
The whole episode brings together three of Ukraine’s most controversial subjects – heating, energy supplies and political infighting. The country’s political leadership are – as ever – at each other’s throats. But Ukraine could do with some decent leadership at the moment. The economy has been hit really hard by the credit crunch. The IMF have already extended a loan to Ukraine, but there are worries that the country may have to come back for more. And yet another confrontation is looming with Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, over energy bills. If things get nasty, it could make Kiev’s hot water problem seem pretty mild.