Gas torch baton

The first main gas pipeline passed through Belarus thirty year ago, connecting Urengoy, Pomary and Uzhgorod
The first main gas pipeline passed through Belarus thirty year ago, connecting Urengoy, Pomary and Uzhgorod. Billions of cubic metres headed to European consumers from Western Siberia via the export artery laid across Belarusian fields. It brought clean, inexpensive fuel to our villages and cities. However, large-scale gasification was only launched in the mid-1990s, with corresponding state programmes approved, and much money allocated.

As a result, 118 Belarusian districts and all 113 cities are connected to the gas supply, with over 70 percent of urban dwellers and 54 percent of villagers enjoying access to ‘blue fuel’. In Brest Region alone, over 10,000km of pipelines have been laid, to ensure use by residents of villages, agro-towns, cities and enterprises. Over just a few decades, Brest gas workers have laid enough pipeline to join Brest and Vladivostok.

In addition, thousands of Polesie residents can proudly repeat the famous lines from Sergey Mikhalkov’s poem: ‘We have gas in our flat!’ Pipelines have reached the most remote areas of the country, including villages affected by the Chernobyl disaster (where using firewood is extremely dangerous).

Nikolay and Maria Sinkevichs, from Pinsk District’s Boyary village, invited me to their home. Its rooms are spotlessly clean and are adorned with my host’s embroidery: on the sofa, pillows and the table. A hand-embroidered towel frames an icon in the corner. Maria loves to embroider on winter evenings, explaining, “Our stove failed to warm us, so we had to resort to using firewood. It took a lot of effort to keep it going. Now, I only need to switch on the lamp and I can calmly embroider by the window.” Nikolay adds, “It’s hard for me to collect wood, as I’m 74. Last winter was easier, almost like a holiday — for the first time in our life.”

Gas pipelines were laid through Boyary at the end of 2014, transforming the home life of Galina Shpakovskaya. She lives in a pretty house on the outskirts, and believes their entire village has been improved. “It’s now clean everywhere! People are installing inside bathrooms as a result.” Galina explains that the whole village agreed to cover the cost of having pipelines laid. “We’ve set up a co-operative, registering all documents; 70 percent of costs are covered from the village budget and the remaining 30 percent are paid by villagers. We’ve received privileged-term loans and have coped with the task well.”

The Head of Pinskraigas, Alexander Sinkevich, took me on a tour of Boyary village, bordered by the River Yaselda, meadows and forests. It’s modest in size, being home to around 100 people, and has found a new lease of life recently, thanks to gas. Those used to urban living, such as sculptor and artist Sergey Zhilevich, may find themselves released from the ‘cage’ of city life in such a place. He moved from Pinsk to Boyary, building a house in his grandfather’s garden. He has even encouraged the villagers to construct their own church. Mr. Zhilevich has filled the space around his home with a fairy-tale sculpture garden: open to all, regardless of him being at home.

A yellow box with a gas metre indicates that the house is connected with convenient natural gas: the wonderful landscape of the village remains unaffected and the house is all the more comfortable.

The village of Lyubel ‘envies’ its neighbours but, by autumn, should also enjoy its own gas supply: pipelines are being laid from Boyary. A powerful excavator is already digging a trench and small vehicles are operating nearby. It’s no easy task when the lanes are narrow and agricultural fields cannot be disturbed. Mr. Sinkevich tells us, “Since gasification began in Pinsk District, in 2001, 24 villages have received gas supply: 4,187 individual houses. Those in the Chernobyl affected areas are especially happy.”

Neighbouring Ivanovo District is yet to enjoy extensive gas supplies. At the end of 2014, pipelines were laid to remote Tyshkovichi. This large village has almost 1,300 residents but only two houses have gas at the moment. The chief engineer of the district branch of Ivanovoraigas comments, “Gas pipelines have been laid to the village and a co-operative established. Once all necessary agreements and registrations have been completed and a distribution gas pipeline has been built, gas will be supplied to all homes.”

Lidia Kotkovets, who lives in one of the two ‘happy’ houses, is pleased. “I must admit: I was persuaded,” she admits. “I’m fully enjoying the advantages of gas supply. It’s great that my furnace works uninterrupted: in summer, we were using one gas canister monthly. We’ve been making jams and I’m preparing for my son’s wedding but I know I can cook without problems. Thank you.”

A major section of the pipeline (over 4km) has been laid to Tyshkovichi under the Yaselda River and through surrounding marshes. Mr. Ignatovets stops his car by the river, explaining, “Initially, we planned to use the shortest route but then learnt that we’d need to halt at an ancient settlement. As a result, we laid pipes under the river and through its marshes, using special machinery (from Brest).”

Brest Region is a Belarusian leader in terms of agro-towns’ gasification: 69.8 percent already enjoy natural gas supplies. Soon, the agro-town of Dostoevo (the home of Dostoevsky’s forefathers, in Ivanovo District) will have its own gas. Mr. Ignatovets shows me the future route.

I wonder how villagers can afford to purchase gas boilers, since they aren’t cheap. However, I’m told that there’s a specialised shop selling a range of brands, under loan or payment in instalments. Automatic gas boilers (which keep the necessary temperature, switching on and off independently) cost more than those you load yourself with wood or peat.

Undoubtedly, access to the gas supply raises our quality of life. Those living in almost 4 million Belarusian flats would surely agree. Once people have the chance to use natural gas, they do all they can to take advantage of the fact.

Expert view

Alexander Prostakov, Deputy General Director of Beltopgas:

Belarus is among the most advanced countries regarding the level of its gasification. Pipes stretch for over 53,700km, including 29,300km through villages. In the first half of 2015, 30 agro-towns and villages received gas supply.

Beltopgas organisations have participated in several state programmes — including the 2010-2015 social-economic development programme for the complex use of natural resources in Pripyat Polesie. Homes in Gomel, Mogilev and Brest Districts (on lands contaminated by radionuclides) are now connected. In line with the programme (in particular, in Brest Region), 77.8km of supply pipelines have come into operation, costing Br45.8bln — including Br45.3bln from the Republican budget (partly from the Energy Ministry’s Innovative Fund). The 2011-2015 state programme for the sustainable development of villages has access to Br47bln for pipeline construction so far.

By Valentina Kozlovich

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