MOSCOW — When temperatures hit the lowest reading in 120 years this past weekend, what did Muscovites do?
The ones who could went out and had fun.
Russia takes off the week between New Year’s and Eastern Orthodox Christmas, which fell on Saturday. Temperatures began dropping Friday and on Saturday dipped past the 120-year-old record for the date to minus-22 degrees — during a weekend of outdoor events that mostly went off as scheduled.
And for people looking to get outside after a week of feasting and sitting around with family and relatives in crowded apartments and country dachas, the bitter cold brought something not often seen during a Moscow winter: a weekend full of sunny weather.
Downtown Moscow was transformed into a brightly lighted winter carnival, with an outdoor bazaar, rides and songs in Red Square, and a giant ice slide just steps from the Kremlin walls. More than 500 cyclists took part Sunday in a “bicycle parade,” although authorities had asked the organizers to cancel the event because of the extreme cold. Wrapped up in layers, riders of all ages cruised through Moscow without serious incident, officials said.
But for others the cold was fatal. The Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Gumenyuk, deputy director of Moscow’s Emergency Medicine Center, as saying that two people had been found dead. He also said that dozens were hospitalized with frostbite between New Year’s Eve and Monday, many during the worst of the cold over the weekend.
The cold also brought travel mayhem. Throughout the weekend, Moscow echoed with the plaintive roar of drivers trying and failing to start their cars, and Twitter displayed images of stranded vehicles. About 40 flights were canceled or delayed at Moscow’s airports.
Fortunately, most Muscovites who dressed warmly and limited their time outside were able to enjoy the crisp air and avoid complications.
And this being Russia, a hearty few stripped down to their skivvies and dived into ice-cold water. The online news site 360tv.ru showed pictures of bathers in the Moscow suburb of Klimovsk who had hacked jacuzzi-size holes into thick ice covering a body of water — the site did not say which one.
“The hardest time to go swimming is in the fall or spring, when there’s no difference in the temperatures” of the water and air, the site quoted bather Alexander Antonov as saying. “But in the winter, the water seems warm.”
Speaking of warm, things had thawed up a bit by Monday evening. To a balmy 1 degree.
Natalya Abbakumova contributed to this report.