Image: People spend time in a snow-covered park in Kiev
Anatolii Stepanov  /  Reuters
People spend time in a snow-covered park in Kiev Feb. 16, 2012.
updated 2/16/2012 1:29:12 PM ET 2012-02-16T18:29:12

Health officials say 151 people have died in the Ukraine during Eastern Europe's record-breaking cold spell, with alcohol regularly a contributing factor.

The health ministry said Thursday that nearly 4,000 others have been hospitalized with hypothermia and frostbite.

Emergency officials say in 90 percent of cases, people died because they were under the influence of alcohol, which increases the risk of hypothermia and generally decreases a person's ability to feel and respond to the cold.

The cold spell has prompted authorities to close nurseries, schools and colleges across the country.

Heavy snowfalls have also caused power outages and trapped hundreds of vehicles on motorways in southern Ukraine, as well as several ships in the Sea of Azov.

PhotoBlog: Extreme cold hits Europe

Since the end of January, Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine hav been pummeled by the deep freeze, which has brought the heaviest blizzards in recent memory. Tens of thousands have been trapped in often-freezing homes and villages by walls of snow and unpassable roads, and officials have struggled to reach out to the vulnerable with emergency food airlifts.

Authorities in Russia said 205 people have died this year in the frigid cold, while Poland had 107. Seven people have died in Romania during a 24 hour period this week, bringing the total there to 86 deaths. In Lithuania, there have been 23 deaths. Deaths were also reported in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

In hard-hit Romania, some 23,000 people remain isolated in 225 eastern communities where more than one week of heavy snow has blocked roads and wreaked havoc on the rail network. Residents were worried that their houses could collapse under the heavy snow as authorities struggled to bring them food, water, medicine and wood.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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