Heavy snow and a severe cold snap killed at least 36 people across eastern Europe and many areas were under emergency measures Monday as schools closed down, roads became impassable and power supplies were cut off.

As temperatures dropped to around -20 C, authorities opened emergency shelters and urged people to be careful and remain indoors.

Concerns about vulnerable populations

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 people died of hypothermia in recent days and nearly 500 people sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia in just three days last week. Twelve of the dead were homeless people whose bodies were discovered on the streets.

Temperatures in some regions of Ukraine plunged to -16 C during the day -23 C during the night.

Authorities opened 1,500 shelters to provide food and heat and shut down schools and nurseries.

More than 17,000 people have sought help in such shelters in the past three days, authorities said.

At least 10 people froze to death in Poland since Friday as the cold reached -26 C.

Malgorzata Wozniak, a spokeswoman for Poland's Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that elderly people and homeless persons were among the dead and police were checking unheated empty buildings to make sure that homeless people don't freeze to death.

Early Monday temperatures fell to -26 C in southern Poland.

Until Friday, Poland has been having a mild winter with little snow and temperatures just below the freezing mark.

Power outages and emergency shelters

In central Serbia, three people died and two more were missing and 14 municipalities throughout the country were under emergency plans. Efforts to clear roads of snow were hampered by strong winds and dozens of towns faced power outages.

Police said one woman froze to death in a snowstorm in a central village, while two elderly men were found dead, one in the snow outside his home. Further south, emergency crews are searching for two men in their 70s who are feared dead.

In neighbouring Bulgaria, a 57-year-old man froze to death in a northwestern village and emergency "code orange" was declared in 25 of the country's 28 districts. In the capital of Sofia, authorities set up rescue spots where hot tea was distributed and placed homeless people in emergency shelters.

Strong winds also closed down Bulgaria's main Black Sea port of Varna.

In the Czech capital of Prague, city authorities announced plans to set up tents for the estimated 3,000 homeless people. Freezing temperatures also damaged train tracks, slowing railway traffic.