This Europe: Sweltering Russians drown in the drink

By Fred Weir
Saturday 25 January 2014 04:10
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It's a sweltering weekday afternoon at the suburban Serebryany Bor beach on the Moscow river.

Andrei Karpiznikov, 24, who has been floating languidly about 30ft offshore, suddenly gets into trouble. He begins spitting water, coughing and thrashing his limbs.

Three of Mr Karpiznikov's friends, who have been lying on the bank amid a pile of empty beer and vodka bottles, try to help him. One trips and falls in the grass; the other two blunder into the river, where they seem about to drown themselves.

"You idiots," shouts Mr Karpiznikov, standing in the waist-deep water and laughing, pleased with his joke. "You guys are really drunk." It's merriment all around as the friends drag each other back to shore and open more beers. "It's too hot to be sober," Mr Karpiznikov says.

The only thing unusual in this scene, as Moscow endures its worst heatwave since 1972, is the happy ending. So far this year, 188 have drowned in the city's rivers, ponds and reservoirs trying to beat the heat.

More than three quarters are drunk men, says Yevgeny Tolmachev, deputy chief doctor of Hospital No 17. The typical Russian male, when drunk, "starts to think he is invincible", the doctor says. "Our morgue is full of men like that."

The Ministry of Health says Russians consume about 15 litres of pure alcohol per capita every year. That works out at about 70 half-litre bottles of vodka for every man, woman and child. It also says that about 20,000 Russians drown annually – a rate nine times greater than in the US, which has twice the population.

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