A prolonged heatwave across European Russia combined with a prodigious consumption of vodka has led to dozens of drownings every day as drunken swimmers attempt to cool off in lakes and ponds. More than 200 people have drowned in the last week alone.
Vadim Seregin, of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, said 52 Russians died on Monday, and 49 on Tuesday in drowning incidents. Last month the total figure was 1,200 deaths, and numbers are likely to rise this month as the country experiences some of the hottest weather in recorded history.
Many Russians, more used to icy winters than tropical summers, dash to the beach to cool off, but vodka and swimming can often be a lethal combination, say officials.
Up to 95 per cent of the drowning deaths are of drunk males. The incidents mostly occur away from supervised beaches; often in isolated ponds and lakes located near dachas – the country houses where city-dwelling Russians go on weekends to relax and drink with family and friends.
Last week six children from Moscow drowned during a school trip to the Azov sea in the south of the country. A criminal case has been opened against two of their teachers, who were allegedly drunk when supervising the children and told them to swim in an isolated beach without lifeguards. The case has caused media outrage in Russia but is just one of dozens of daily examples of intoxication leading to tragedy.
Two deaths occurred last month when two men who couldn't swim got drunk and attempted to cross the Moscow River, which runs through the centre of the Russian capital. They attached empty plastic bottles to their arms to help them float, but it did not work and they drowned.
There is no end in sight to the heat wave, and forecasters expect the coming weekend to be one of the hottest in recorded history. Russia is suffering the worst drought for 130 years, and the government has imposed a state of emergency in 16 regions.