Financial crisis strands giant evergreen in Kiev's central square

UkraineKiev - The international financial crisis and its devastating impact on Ukrainian state revenues has stranded a 40- metre Christmas tree in the central square of the capital Kiev, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

Near-empty city hall accounts and outstanding debt have left the Kiev city government without funds to dismantle the evergreen erected for end-of-the-year holidays, said Oleksandr Brihinets, a Kiev city deputy.

"The tree could be still standing until St. Valentines' Day... and maybe even until May," Brihinets said. "The city has no money."

The erection of a holiday tree in the centre of Kiev's historic Maidan Square is a heavily-publicised annual event in the former Soviet republic.

Traditionally, the mayor of Kiev overseeing the tree's construction and the Ukrainian President throws the switch to turn on the lights for the first time, on live television.

The 2008 - 2009 holiday season's Maidan tree was by Tuesday still standing, but shedding needles into snow slush and becoming barer by the day, eyewitnesses said.

The tree's actual trunk is a steel pole some 40 metres high, onto which workers bolt dozens of live firs to form branches. Assembly of the "state Christmas tree" costs Kiev taxpayers some 10,000 dollars annually, according to the report.

Kiev mayor Leonid Chernovitsky faced with a deficit budget at the end of 2008 ordered the tree built on credit, but falling tax revenues have left city hall unable to pay, forcing contractors to refuse to take down the structure before the city clears its debt, a job Brihunets claimed.

By far Ukraine's wealthiest city, Kiev has seen its economy hit the skids in recent months, with infation and unemployment rising to double-digits, and continuous economic contraction since November.

Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti square was the focal point of Ukraine's pro-democracy 2004 Orange Revolution. More recently it its a popular venue for outdoor concerts, and visits by tourists. (dpa)