As I travel through Stalipinovo (the mahala where I work) men, women, and children of all ages are participating in some way in the “heating process”. Young boys are sent to buy a bag of coal from a street vendor, hoist it on their shoulder and start climbing the two to eight flights of stairs, to bring it home. Little, little children are responsible for picking up the smallest pieces of wood for kindling on the site where it was split by someone three times their size. Wood splitting is rarely rounds of trees. Usually it will be a shipping palette, pressed board scraps, or broken furniture from construction or renovation sites. One day I stopped to help an elderly woman struggling with three plastic bags full of wet punk wood she was trying to bring home. As I approached her from the back I could see she was having a hard time managing the ripping bags and the weight of the wood as she stopped every few yards to rearrange her load. Together we managed to get them closer to her home, but I couldn’t help but think of how little heat they would provide for such a great effort. She could not afford the luxury of “seasoned wood”.
Staying warm may also be the result of reducing the size of your living space considerably. Many families, particularly in the larger village homes stay in one or two rooms for the winter, relying primarily on the cook or wood stove for heat. Day beds are part of the furniture (even in the kitchen) year round, but take on a new life as the kitchen becomes the bedroom when night falls in winter. Adding a plaster exterior to the old brick homes helps as well as those new windows and doors, but that requires an income stream larger than the pensions of the elderly.