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"We are not worried about the winter. There are more other fears now". Russian-speaking emigrants about the energy crisis


Europe is in for a difficult winter. The war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, the post-Soviet weakness of economies. How will we deal with it, gentlemen of Europe?

We asked our readers to tell us whether their countries, families and homes are ready for a winter of high tariffs; how tangible is the energy crisis, price rises and the measures that governments are taking to stimulate frugal energy consumption.

Anna (Estonia, Tallinn):

- Prices have certainly gone up. For everything. Electricity, fuel, food. Many things have gone up by 100%. According to statistics, Estonia has the biggest price increase in Europe. Shopping centres are in ‘austerity mode’, turning off counter lighting, which is unusual, but understandable, but the lack of street lighting in the already dark morning hours is shocking. Although the government is introducing supportive measures for the population: the October electricity bill automatically included compensation, which has reduced costs slightly. Businesses are having a harder time. The hardest part will be when the real cold weather comes.

We are not worried about the winter. There are other fears now. Surviving in conditions of austerity is a thing of the past: we have experience of surviving in cramped economic conditions like all the "post-Soviet" people.

The three of us live in a flat, we sleep all year round with the windows open while others turn on the radiators. Of course, our experience in terms of heat economy is not the most representative. We are not going to save money on purpose. The main thing is that we live in a quiet and peaceful country.

Alexey and Anna (Spain, Andalusia, Malaga):

- We won't worry much about the winter. We are in the south of Spain! The coldest is 7-8 at night and 12-15 during the day. Winter here is usually dry, difficulties will begin in March-April when it rains periodically, but it is still a very relative "winter".

In general, Spain does not depend much on Russian oil and gas: the main suppliers of oil are Nigeria, Mexico and Libya, while gas is supplied by Algeria and Nigeria. However, we are affected by the increased demand from other countries, which has driven up prices.

We are not going to save every kilowatt hour, but we did change the electricity tariff to a more loyal and lower one. If we are going to freeze in winter, we will switch on the heaters - it is more expensive to get sick. Especially when we have two primary school children in the flat and we are expecting our third child. We've made sure we don't heat empty rooms before, and we will now. So no radical changes are foreseen.

Sometime in April or May prices and tariffs are going up in Spain. Electricity and gas tariffs have been going up since last April. We have a differential tariff by the hour, today it has tripled.

Prices in the shops have gone up by about 20-30%. If before we used to spend 100 euros, now about the same purchases cost 120-130 euros.

Concerning what the Spaniards suffer, the temperature limits, in summer in public places air conditioning is not below 27 degrees and not above 19 degrees in winter. From 22:00 shops have to turn off shop window lights, which has already caused a wave of indignation as everyone's income and sales will fall.

We don't think there is anything wrong with these energy saving measures. Let's be honest: in the winter the average Spaniard flat is 16-17 degrees, if you are lucky, 19. There is no heating, and if there is it is usually provided via electric calorifiers, which even before the war were not cheap.

That is if to take away emotions, then by and large the limit of 19 degrees in public places will not deliver strong discomfort. The children of our first winter at school in Malaga in the covid era sat in jackets as the protocol was to keep the windows open.

The water in the swimming pool in the sports hall got cooler, even in the hot tub area, which, of course, is not ideal. But it's no big deal to anyone, and it is all just trifles against the background of what is happening in Ukraine.

Dan and Elena (Sweden, Stockholm):

- Sweden is a northern country, with autumn and winter for half a year in the capital and 9-10 months in the area of the Arctic Circle. Naturally, light and heat at reasonable prices are desirable in both homes and businesses. And there is a chance that the new parliament elected in September will shape the pricing policy for energy tariffs sensibly. We will see how it goes in practice.

The inflation rate in Sweden is 9 %. Wages, allowances, benefits and pensions have not been indexed in 2022. The compensation for heat and light for the coming months will be about 40-50 euros a month per family. That is nothing at all!

Fortunately, Sweden uses almost no natural gas, so the "Russian gas" problem has not affected the situation in the country.

Especially when compared with, for example, Germany, which is completely out of its "comfort zone".

Prices have risen since the beginning of the year. Our personal "lunch budget" calculator has calculated an increase in food costs of at least 25%. Petrol prices have risen by a third. The cost of electricity for a family has jumped 160%, to 200% in southern Sweden.

So we, the Ahlmark family, have had to adopt a prudent austerity policy and often have to think 'for or against' while standing in a shop, with a 19-year-old son who is tall, strong, healthy (thank God!) and eats for three.

We are the occupants of a two-storey, multi-room flat in a green area of Stockholm, with visits from our son, a royal guardsman, and two daughters with their boyfriends and friends. We live with the cat and so far so good - 'light and warm'.

We switched energy suppliers at the end of last year, so our costs are only 10-15% higher now. The house is also built well. However, we are still worried that utilities and other housing costs will go up.

When it comes to optimising energy use for winter, we have installed an "even heat distribution unit" in every flat in the house. Battery thermostats are set to 21 degrees (in Italy, they say, you have to set them to 19, with the threat of fines for raising the room temperature). Electric fireplaces are available. If it gets a bit cold in the room, especially downwind, we will switch on the fireplaces. Of course, no one will freeze!

Andrea and Galina (Italy, Sicily, Castellammare del Golfo):

- The three of us (my son is 8) live in a lovely warm place, and our flat overlooks the sea, but of course we can't say we're not worried about how the coming winter will be for us.

We are worried. First of all because of the prices: their increase is already felt, electricity and heating tariffs and prices of goods have increased noticeably. For example, a gas bottle has cost 60 euros since spring, while before the war (ed.: in Ukraine) it cost 45 euros. Electricity bills have almost doubled since the summer months.

When it comes to heating, we heat our flat with a pellet stove ("stufa a pellet"). Before the war a 15 kg bag of pellet cost 8 euros, now it costs 14 euros. The prices in the shops have risen too, by an average of 30 per cent. All this has hit the family budget quite hard.

Does Italy have any measures to support people? It is difficult to say. We don't feel them. But there are still subsidies and allowances for the poor.

And we are working, so we are not waiting for subsidies, just saving: reduce spending on recreational activities (trips, going to restaurants, shopping). And, of course, in the new conditions we will have to heat ourselves up in a strict economy mode.

Of course, it's even more difficult for business. The biggest problem for business here has always been high taxes, and now electricity bills have increased manifold. It will not be easy. But morally we are ready for it.

Yuri and Alex (Belgium, Flaams-Brabant, Rotselaar):

- Are we ready for winter? We are ready. We have the old electricity contract until February 2023. After that it will be a problem - prices will change globally. We heat our homes with fuel oil, we have also bought it for winter, even though the prices have doubled. So we are not worried about winter. And the gas problem doesn't affect us directly: the house is not gasified.

As with everywhere else, petrol and diesel prices have increased considerably in Belgium. Europe's plans to move away from Russian oil may cause problems with diesel production.

This is worrying as one of the 3 cars in the house is diesel fueled.

Prices in shops have soared too. Our family's average bill has risen by a 150%. Especially for dairy and meat products. We buy clothes and shoes online, price fluctuations are not particularly relevant there. But for all sorts of little things, without which it is difficult to do without - kitchen paper towels, toilet paper, wax paper for baking, foil - prices have risen from 15% to 40% compared to last year. Altogether we can say that the household price tag has gone up significantly.

Just in case, we have even bought pasta, rice and toilet paper: what if their production becomes unprofitable and they become more expensive or stop being produced.

A separate item is online shopping. We buy a lot of things online. This is especially true for vitamins and cat food. There is a price increase there too, but thanks to aggregator sites you can choose where to buy at a discount or special price.

We are sympathetic to government measures to save energy. The question is that any measures would look insufficient in the eyes of the people. It is unlikely that any government can find so much money to compensate for rising energy prices.

It is also unlikely that a government would go against business and freeze energy prices and thereby bury the economy.

In Belgium, a law to cap energy prices was hotly debated but never passed. So the government has two options: give some money to consumers as subsidies or come up with a system of sophisticated measures to account for and request tax refunds as part of energy-saving programs.

People in Belgium have been paid a one-off "energy" subsidy of 100 euros per family and from November there will be other compensations, in a more complicated scheme. Also the VAT on gas and electricity has been reduced from 21% to 6%. There is also a social tariff, but because we are not part of it in any way, we have not even studied what it is. There was a one-time subsidy of 300 euros for fuel oil. There is also a subsidy for those who heat with pellet fuel, in the amount of 250 euros. And the state (provincial) governments have also developed their own measures to support consumers.

We understand that saving energy resources in a feckless organization is nothing but a waste of time and resources.

What's the use of going after everyone to turn off the lights if the bulbs are not energy-saving. What good is lowering the temperature in a house without proper insulation and single-glazed windows.

Everything has to be calculated: saving requires a significant investment of resources.

Our energy consumption in our house is low. Our main energy eater is the hob, which came of age this year. We don't have the money to replace it yet, but we don't even consider the "no cooking" option: after all, saving should be sensible.

We didn't do anything special for this winter. And we are not going to. We are going to decorate the Christmas tree with light bulbs. It is not an energy expenditure we have to worry about. Everything in our household is part of the energy conservation project we set ourselves when we bought the house a few years ago.

Opinions recorded by: Olga Smirnova
Photos from the internet

Household compensations, billions in welfare payments, rising inflation. Olga Smirnova talks about how Europe is preparing for winter

Household compensations, billions in welfare payments, rising inflation. Olga Smirnova talks about how Europe is preparing for winter


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