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Ukraine's Double Woes: War And Runaway Inflation


Ukraine is an economic basket case. The country's 43 million people face a Russian-fueled war, runaway inflation and an economy that's about to collapse. How do they survive? NPR's Corey Flintoff has the story.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Imagine yourself living in an economy so bad that your savings lost 60 percent of their value in one year; where prices pulled, especially for essential items like food and utilities, and where your meager salary didn't increase at all. That's the world inhabited by Oksana Petrenko, but you wouldn't know it to look at her. Oksana, who's 37, is remarkably cheerful as she bustles about making tea in her cozy apartment in Kiev. She works in a state publishing house.

OKSANA PETRENKO: (Through interpreter) I have very small salaries and big amount of work to do, and because of economical problem in the country, these kind of job are not good paying.

FLINTOFF: Oksana's husband works for the Ukrainian customs service, and they have two daughters; 11 and 13. They live what should be, by Ukrainian standards, a fairly comfortable, middle-class life. But Oksana has to fight the urge to panic.

PETRENKO: (Through interpreter) First of all, I'm trying to control my emotions, and I'm thinking in a way that it can't continue endless, so if I will not deal with my emotions, I will not survive at all.

FLINTOFF: Clothes hardly merit a line in the budget because Petrenko spends so little. She swaps her daughter clothes to friends with younger children and gets clothes for her girls from other friends with teenagers. For herself and her husband, she shops the second hand stores.

PETRENKO: (Through interpreter) Some people are ashamed to talk about this. I don't ashamed to talk about this because without such shops, I wouldn't survive.

FLINTOFF: Economists say about 60 to 70 percent of Ukrainians' household spending goes for food. That's compared with just over six percent for Americans. Oksana and her friends exchange tips on where the best prices are for different grocery items, and she plans her commuting time so she can shop without making extra trips. Ukraine is famous for its agriculture. It was known as the bread basket of the former Soviet Union, and many city dwellers still have relatives on the land who can help them with fresh fruits and vegetables. That's not exactly true for Oksana and her family, but her parents are retired and spend their summers in a cottage or a dacha in the country. She says her mother decided to make sure this year by digging up part of his tiny plot of land to grow potatoes.

PETRENKO: (Through interpreter) My mother was trying to stop him because it's - this amount of potato will not save our big family. But he said no. Now, we will grow potato as well.

FLINTOFF: The potatoes may not save the family, but the skills they learn during other hard times probably will. Oksana says she learned to cope as a teenager when her family went through the economic turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vasyl Yurchyshyn is the director of economics at the Razumkov Centre, a think tank in Kiev. When I asked him how Ukrainians survive inflation, he said their experience with previous economic hardships had a lot to do with it.

VASYL YURCHYSHYN: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "They have some kind of immunity against inflation," he says, "because in the 1990s, inflation in Ukraine was 10,000 percent." So 60 percent is like nothing. Corey Flintoff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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