Hard Times: Russian Teacher Tells About Her Life During the 1990s
618 views   /  30 Oct 2015
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia went through a series of radical economic reforms. The IMF and neo-liberal economists proposed the plan of radical privatization and other free market-oriented reforms, known as the “shock-therapy,” in an attempt to transfer Russia from a centrally-planned economy to a market economy. Many argue it was a big mistake by the government that brought millions of Russians to starvation, while others try to justify the measures saying that they were necessary to integrate Russia into the global economy.
By Afanasiy Pervomaisky
Russian Accent found a diary of a woman from the Sverdlovsk Region published in the newspaper Moya Semya (“My Family”). In her diary, the woman, who was a teacher while her husband worked in a mine, tells about her family’s everyday struggle with extreme poverty during the 1990s in a brutally honest and engaging manner.
January 13, 1992: As of January 2 everything in stores became under free price system. Milk, bread and grains became more expensive. The price of bread rose from 1,8 rubles to 3,6 rubles, a liter of milk is now 1,5 rubles, sour cream is now 68 rubles per kilo. Nobody buys it anymore. Salaries stayed the same. We haven’t eaten sugar for two months. Our son and daughter received “4s” and “5s” at school [Russia uses a five-point academic grading system, where “1” is very poor and “5” is excellent knowledge of a subject.] My husband and I work.
June 20, 1992: There is no money, as we haven’t been paid since April. We’re almost starving: we eat only bread and potatoes. Prices keep rising. A loaf of bread is 11 rubles, milk – 12 rubles per liter, sausages are between 130 and 180 rubles per kilo. Our daughter passed her exams [at middle school] with excellent marks.
November 13, 1992: We received food vouchers. Everything is getting more expensive. Bread – between 19 – 20 rubles, sugar – 155 rubles per kilo, butter – between 330 – 350 rubles. Clothes – tens of thousands of rubles. Winter boots – between 8,000 – 12,000 rubles. My monthly salary is 5,000, while my husband got paid 15,000 in October.
June 11, 1993: Children successfully finished the school year. My husband works at a factory, his salary is 16,000 rubles, while mine is 6,000 rubles per month. Prices at a store are following: a loaf of bread – 24 rubles, sugar – 430 rubles per kilo, sausages – between 1,450 and 1,950 rubles, butter – 1,450. I don’t know what we’ll do soon.
January 20, 1994: My husband is still waiting for his December salary, I didn’t receive my subsistence payment. In November, my husband received 80,000 rubles, while I had 130,000 rubles, and we already borrowed 50,000 rubles [from other people, not banks]. We’re lucky to have potatoes and other vegetables from our garden that are the only source of our existence right now. A loaf of bread costs 280 – 300 rubles, butter – 3,500 rubles, sausages are between 3,200 and 4,800 rubles, sugar – 700 rubles. Our children are doing well in school, my husband and I work. The winter is warm this year. Factories across Russia are starting to close down, ours is also on the verge of closure.
July 7, 1994: I received my annual leave allowance – 362,000 rubles. I must buy a winter coat for my daughter – 200,000 rubles, a new raincoat for myself – 140,000 rubles, and winter boots for my son – between 65,000 – 70,000 rubles. My husband hasn’t gotten paid since June. I’m not sure how to live further. A loaf of bread is between 380 and 420 rubles, sausages – between 7,000 – 11,000 rubles, sugar – 700 rubles.
February 6, 1995: My husband got a job in another city because our factory didn’t pay salaries for 5 months. We’re half-starving. A loaf of bread is 1,000 rubles, sugar – 2,850 rubles, butter – 23,000 rubles, a liter of milk – 700 rubles. The winter is warm.
October 2, 1995: The weather is still warm, we had a very nice summer, it was almost +32 at times. We managed to grow a lot of vegetables over this summer. A loaf of bread is 2,000 rubles, butter – between 17,000 and 19,000 rubles, meat – between 12,000 and 15,000 rubles per kilo.
November 6, 1996: We have no money. Neither my husband nor I received our salaries. He hasn’t been paid for 5 months, myself – for 3 months. Kids enrolled in a trade school, but yet to receive their stipends. On paper, my husband makes 1,500,000 rubles a month, I get 460,000 rubles a month, however it’s only on paper. The daughter works part-time while in school, but she also isn’t getting paid. I don’t understand how our kids study so well, they receive only “4s” and “5s.”
August 7, 1997: My husband hasn’t seen his salary for a year now. The factory owes him 12,000,000 rubles. The government announced a new reform, they’re going to take away all the zeros from rubles. Our son finished the first year at the trade school with only excellent marks, the daughter finished her school year with “4s” and “5s.” The summer has been weird: we had a cold snap on June 18, the temperature fell to – 2 degrees, this month it has been raining non-stop.
January 9, 1998: My husband hasn’t been paid for 16 months now. Our TV is broken, I’d like to buy a spare part and fix it. When will we finally have some money?
April 9, 1999: Last year was very hard for us, we barely survived the winter because we had no money at all. We baked our own bread. Now in April the government began to pay salaries a little bit, because an election is coming up. We only get the current salary; the rest has been “frozen.”
February 6, 2000: Everything is the same: there is no money, we’re barely surviving, is this even life? No, people shouldn’t tolerate this kind of treatment!
January 11, 2004: I want to continue my diary. Over the past years our kids got into a university. The daughter married and already gave the birth to a grandchild, the son also married. We receive our salaries regularly now, stores are full and we buy everything that we want these days. Our life began to improve. We survived. I thought about taking a vacation to the Black Sea with my granddaughter.
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