MOSCOW • The authorities in Moscow had spent millions on Christmas trees, sparkling lights and other holiday decorations, but the festive mood was still missing something: Winter weather.
As the warmest December on record drew to a close, little snow had fallen, so the city made artificial snow and trucked it to parts of the city centre - and much of it quickly melted into slush. Images of trucks unloading snow spread fast on social media, as observers ridiculed the government for spending money on something that usually just falls from the sky.
"With the Moscow budget, you can buy anything, even winter," one person tweeted, pointing to the vast wealth disparity between the capital and the rest of Russia.
"Let's install freezing machines along the Tverskaya," another one wrote, referring to the city's main thoroughfare, where the authorities said the snow would be used to build a hill for snowboarders.
Many Muscovites on the streets appeared to be less scornful. They said they had missed the snow and welcomed the decision to bring it before New Year's Eve, the main family holiday in Russia, when the country stops for a week to celebrate. At a time of year when temperatures usually stay well below freezing, Moscow has had some highs in the mid-10s deg C in the past two weeks.
As if to mock the artificial scene, a blizzard enveloped Moscow on Monday night, leaving a natural snow cover on city streets - but forecasts say that, too, will melt away before the New Year.
"Yes, they brought the snow, and of course when they did it, a snowfall began, too," said Ms Larisa Artamonova, 70, a retired engineer. "It will all create a festive mood, I am sure."
Muscovites have a difficult relationship with snow. While many like it as a sign of the holidays, others complain that snowfall produces traffic jams, the salt spread on roads ruins shoes and the mixture turns into a dirty, grey muck.
Last week, Moscow City Hall blocked many central streets around the Kremlin for the holiday season, which will last into the next week. Apart from the snowboard hill on the Tverskaya, a stash of snow was also spotted at Red Square, surrounded by a fence - as if to keep people from stealing any - and another appeared in the new Zaradye Park nearby.
The artificial snow was produced by cutting ice at skating rinks around the city, the authorities said. "The machines there cut ice, producing ice crumbs, so we brought it," a city official, Mr Aleksei Nemeryuk, told Govorit Moskva, a local radio station.
As the climate has heated up in recent years, Russia, like much of the world, has experienced record-breaking heat, with 2019 being the warmest year since observations began, according to meteorologists.
Many northern communities in Russia are built on permafrost that no longer merits the label, melting steadily and forcing people to relocate. Hunters and fishermen have had to change their routines as animals shift their migration routes.
The ice that polar bears traverse to hunt at sea has receded so far that the hungry animals are scavenging on land; in February, dozens of them roamed around a settlement in the country's far north in search of food. There have also been reports of brown bears, too warm to hibernate, out looking for meals.
Ski resorts in Sochi, a city on the Black Sea, said on Sunday that they would limit the number of ski passes sold during the holiday season because the dearth of snow meant that only 20 per cent of trails could be opened.
"Winters have turned much warmer over the past 30 years," said Ms Yelena Morenko, who was out walking with her husband, Alexander, along Petrovka, one of Moscow's most elegant streets. "The season has shifted for at least one month," the 55-year-old added.