Community News

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ukrainians protest economic meltdown

December 19, 2008 | Associated Press

People walk by a currency exchange
office in Kyiv on Dec. 17. The
Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, fell
over 70 percent since the beginning of
the year in the financial crisis. (AP
Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

About 1,000 angry Ukrainians rallied in the Ukrainian capital Thursday, protesting price increases, wage delays, utility cutoffs and other effects of the economic crisis gripping this ex-Soviet nation. Inflation has ravaged the economy and the hryvnia has lost half its value since the global financial meltdown began in September.

Kiev residents rallied in front of the mayor's office Thursday, decrying a fourfold increase in public transport fees, delays in paychecks and problems with hot water and heating in several city districts.

Adding to the tensions, Russia's state natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, warned on Thursday it will cut gas supplies to Ukraine on Jan. 1 if it fails to pay off a $2 billion gas debt.

In 2004, several hundred thousand demonstrators jammed the center of Kiev to demand fair elections in the Orange Revolution protests. Now, experts are predicting massive protests over the financial distress.

Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky and his long-term foe Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko blame each other for the city's plight. But many Kiev citizens blame politicians in general.

"They are all bandits," said Tamara Osipova, 69, a retired music teacher who survives on a monthly pension of 800 hryvna, which has eroded sharply in dollar terms during the crisis - from the equivalent of about $160 to just $80. "I could understand if this were a village, but for the capital of a European country not to have heating, water and gas - how can this be?"

Valentyna Ivanova, a 68 year-old retired engineer said she could not survive on 700 hryvna a month, half of which she will spend on utilities after fees were raised. "When I come home I should eat something, shouldn't I? And how will I buy food?"

A recent poll conducted by Gorshenin's Kiev Management Problems Institute found that some 16 percent of respondents were ready to take to the streets if life doesn't improve. The nationwide study polled 2,000 respondents and had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

The hryvna was trading at 9.65 to the dollar on the foreign currency exchange Thursday, from 4.9 in September.

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