The five floors up were good aerobics but it was a bit difficult to see in the dark stairwell at times. The apartment was long and thin with a kitchen on one end and a single room with a sort of sofa bed/couch in the main room. The entrance was in the middle between the two with the bathroom just inside the front door. The place looked strangely lived in, with books, figurines and those touches you see in someone's home and not in rental apartments. While unpacking I opened a drawer to put away my clothes and it was filled with women's underwear. My speculations that someone moved out for a while to earn a few bucks were confirmed later by the local staff.
The following morning I arose in the cool crisp air and put a pan of water on for some morning coffee. There was no heat and it was near freezing outside. Turns out that the city is centrally heated by steam and the hot water doesn't get turned on until October 1st regardless of the temperature. One wears slippers and moves quickly to stay warm. Next task was a good hot shower. I cranked up the shower before I stepped in. The cold water gushed out in torrents. The hot water faucet barely dripped. Seems that the same hot water that is used for heating is also the only hot water one gets for bathing. The morning shower and shave were accomplished using pots of hot water boiled on the stove. If you've ever tried such a thing you understand the creative contortions required. It's not just creature comforts you understand, my wife can verify that you don't want to see me before my morning shower.
At the office everyone had a chuckle over my experience. Seems that they don't rent apartments for expats unless they have electric hot water heaters installed in them first and my experience was due to the last minute switch. But for only a couple of days I can make due.
The couple of days pass and I'm ready to move. The rental agency calls up and says their occupant hasn't left yet, could I hang in there for a couple of days or weeks or whatever. I'm usually pretty accommodating but this had all the markings of something that was never going to happen. So I said "Nyet". The rental agent was not a happy camper. There was a flurry of phone calls back and forth all day long. At the end of the day I get word that they had a man over at my apartment installing a hot water heater so I can stay there. This sounds like a reasonable compromise so I accept.
When I arrive "home" there is a guy in my apartment with a box that looks like a water heater that you mount on the wall. He speaks no English and I speak even less Ukrainian or Russian. I decide it's a good time to take a walk and find somewhere warm for dinner. About two hours later I return and our handyman is still there but the heater is mounted on the shower wall and hoses run somewhere. He is beaming from ear to ear. He turns on the water heater switch and motions for me to put my hand under the shower head. Zap... everything goes black. He scurries out into the hall and I follow to peer into the dark dank cavern where the circuit breakers live. He locates my breaker and flips it back on. The apartment come back to life. He turns on the water heater switch and I feel warmth in the water then Zap... everything goes black again. He stares at the circuit breakers for a while then rummages in his toolbox. I offer to hold the flashlight while he works. Soon I grasp his ingenious plan. He is running jumper wires to the circuit breakers of the other apartments. Now with the unwitting electrical assistance from my neighbors we turn it on again. The water heater comes on and in minutes steamy liquid splashes forth. I carefully mark the breakers so I know which ones to reset if necessary.
As he packs up to leave I point out the one last problem. Since there was no electrical outlet in the bathroom he had run the wires from the heater directly into the outlet in the hallway. Being a bit short on wire the AC wires were stretched taut from Shower head height across the tub to about light switch height at the doorway. I could live with not being able to close the bathroom door because of the wires. The more problematic issue was that then only way to take a shower was to do it on my knees, unless I was willing to standup and get entangled in the live 220 volt wires that ran across the middle of the tub. It was now getting close to midnight. Enough for one day.
The next morning I turned on the hot water and the breakers blew again. At least it was light outside and I could see. I discovered that if I turned off all the lights and unplugged the refrigerator the power stayed on long enough to get a shower.
At the office the team was in stitches when they heard the story. When the laughter subsided the phone calls started and I moved to my new apartment the next day.