View from here - Cash crisis sees ice cream on Crimean streets

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Ukraine Teachers unpaid for two months have spent their summer holidays selling refreshments to tourists

Back in the heady years of the 1990s, when the countries of the former Soviet Union were struggling to make swift trans-formations from command to market economies, it wasn't 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, with their bosses explaining to the cameras that all the cash had dried up. Not that you saw the managers carting off a month's supply of pickled cucumbers back to their unfortunate families.

Teachers, another state-managed group of employees, were only 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 went without their salaries for more than two months during the summer because the local authority supposedly ran out of funds. It is estimated that the council owes the teachers nearly 18.5 million hryvnia (around #163;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 square. Some are even having to live off their children's student grants or their parents' pensions."

Crimea is also one of the most popular hot spots in the former Soviet Union come the summer months, which only served to emphasise the predicament of the Simferopol teachers, who were ostensibly on holiday, too. While temperatures soared to unprecedented highs, they had to plough on selling kvass and ice cream. Teachers in Ukraine broke up for the summer in June and returned last month.

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 did in August. But before the teachers could emit sighs of relief, he said 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.

Europe as a whole has had to adapt to a new era of austerity in the light of the financial crisis, but further east the people are learning that be it communism or capitalism, the hard times just never seem to go away.

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