food crisis in Ukraine
- The following article, attributed to Tim Vickery of the Associated Press,
appeared on page A16 of the Sunday, July 6, 2003 edition of The Arizona
Republic. I suspect this crisis has at least as much to do with Kuchma's
policies of ruining the Ukrainian farmers as it does with disasterous weather.
Despite the beginning paragraph, this has no resemblance to any Soviet-era
shortage. During the Soviet period every Ukrainian had enough to eat, and
food prices were kept low.
UKRAINIANS RUSH TO BUY FOOD AS PRICES SOAR, SUPPLIES FALL
Kiev, Ukraine--In scenes reminiscent of Soviet-era shortages, Ukrainians are
stripping store shelves of flour, buckwheat and other staples amid
skyrocketing prices driven by a disastrous harvest and reported scams.
There's no immediate relief in sight for a country that has some of the
richest soil in Europe and was the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union.
"How can I say how much (flour) will cost next week if I don't have any now?"
asked the manager of Kiev's Mekos grocery chain, who gave only his first
names, Ihor Nikolaivich.
When he asked his wholesaler to restock his shelves, he said, he was told
the warehouse had been emptied by the run on goods.
Store managers face similar problems all over this capital of more than three
"Yesterday, three tons of buckwheat just flew away; we didn't even manage to
get it on the shelves. Everything was taken right off the handcarts," the
Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed product manager from the MegaMart
store as saying.
Some store managers have moved other goods onto the shelves to lessen the
grim appearance of short supply.
Flour that had been selling for about 15 cents a pound (33 cents per kilogram)
at the beginning of the week was up to about 25 cents (55 cents per kilogram)
on Wednesday--where it was available at all. Buckwheat underwent a similar
The price hikes take a severe bite out of the household budget of Ukrainians,
whose average monthly income in 2002 was $71.
Mykola Azarov, the deputy prime minister, told the Cabinet on Wednesday there
was no cause for panic and called on citizens to stop frantic purchases,
his spokesman said. Azarov said the hoarding had further raised prices
already pushed higher by bad weather.
Ukraine's grain harvest is expected to plunge by as much as 40 percent, to
25 million to 30 million tons, after an extraordinarily harsh winter and a
dry summer wiped out much of the country's crops.
But officials say that harvest figures were widely falsified so that state
reserves appeared on paper to have sufficient supplies, allowing secret
export sales that further depleted supplies.
Azarov vowed to intervene shortly to stabilize the market by procuring
supplies to satisfy consumer demand. Kiev officials also announced plans to
buy at least 4,400 tons of flour, sugar and buckwheat to curb further
increases, the Interfax news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Azarov ordered officials to prepare a draft law allowing the
government to confiscate "excess profits" and put the State Tax Administration
in charge of ensuring that all taxes are collected from traders who he
claimed had capitalized on the scare by raising prices unjustifiably.
President Leonid Kuchma has ordered prosecutors to probe dozens of cases of
alleged corruption in the grain market.
Leonid Kozachenko, who headed Ukraine's agricultural policy until a Cabinet
reshuffle in November, was jailed in March on charges of corruption, bribery
and tax evasion, but he was freed on bail this month after pressure from
lawmakers and activists. They claim the charges were trumped up to disguise
the government's failure to implement reforms.