View from here - A Crimean education in ice cream

8th October 2010 at 01:00
Teachers in the Ukraine, unpaid for two months, have spent their summer holidays selling refreshments to tourists, reports Colin Graham

Back in the heady years of the 1990s, when the countries of the former Soviet Union were struggling to make swift transformations from command to market economies, it was not unusual to hear of government-run enterprises paying their employees in the form of their own produce, rather than a wage packet. News bulletins from the period showed factory employees glumly collecting jars of gherkins as remuneration.

Teachers were just slightly more fortunate at the time, in that they at least received some sort of nominal salary, which they would often have to supplement by moonlighting.

Now, more than 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bad times are back. In some places, they were never really banished, despite revolutions that were supposed to bring bright new dawns for long- suffering people.

In the city of Simferopol, the capital of the autonomous republic of Crimea in Ukraine, teachers have had to go without their salaries for over two months during the summer, because the local authority supposedly ran out of funds. The estimates are that the council owes the city's teachers nearly 18.5 million hryvnia (around pound;1.5 million).

Other employees, such as doctors and nurses, are also threatened with severe payment delays.

The result has been teachers having to resort to peddling refreshments around town in order to scrape together a living.

Local secondary school teacher, Lyudmila Artemonova, said: "We are simply in an utterly humiliating situation. It is very painful to see teachers selling kvass (a local soft drink made from rye bread) and ice cream on the city squares during the summer. Some are even having to live off their children's student grants or their parents' pensions."

Simferopol mayor Gennady Babenko has assured his teachers that, while they may have to wait a while longer for their summer money, they will be paid for the work they do in August. But before the teachers emit sighs of relief, he has informed them that they might have to brace themselves for more financial woes during the winter.

"The current budget does not allow us to say that we will be in a condition to meet our expenses in November or December," the mayor said.

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