Two weeks with the ‘new government’. What does it feel like to live in Crimea now?
Pensions, salaries and social benefits
During the so-called pro-Russian campaign for Crimea to join Russia two or three folded increase of salaries, scholarships and other social benefits had been promised by the pro-Russian activists. The joy quickly disappeared once the Crimean pensioners received their first pensions at the end of March. Russia simply multiplied their Ukrainian pensions by the coefficient of 3.8 and paid it in Russian rubles. The Russian authorities in Crimea are not in a hurry to increase the payments to the retired. At the moment they are just promising to dole out some additional benefits.
Everybody heard the stories by Sergey Aksyonov, the self-appointed prime minister of Crimea, that the salaries would rocket by 2-3 times once Crimea joins Russia. As of today, Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to only gradually raise salaries from 1 April 2014 to 1 August 2014. However, not all the residents of Crimea will enjoy the rise. According to the decree signed by the president of Russia only public sector employees and employees of state and municipal authorities are to receive the pay rise. Although the public sector employees had been promised an increase up to the level of an average wage in Russia, today they have received their ‘Ukrainian salary’ multiplied by the famous coefficient of 3.8.
At the moment nobody can tell what will happen to the cost of education in Crimea. In Russia education is far more expensive than in Ukraine. However, the universities in Crimea had signed fixed long term contracts with their students. Many are even scared to imagine what will happen next.
The Russian childcare system of benefits differs from the Ukrainian one dramatically. To cut the long story short, the amount paid to new mothers will drop significantly when the ‘transition’ to Russian system is over. Unemployed mothers can forget about any payments. The maternity leave in Ukraine may last up to a year, whereas in Russia it is limited to 70 or 84 days.
The ruble and new prices
The residents of the sunny peninsula have suddenly faced a problem: the ruble is not always accepted as a means of payment in Crimea. To tell the truth, hardly anywhere you can pay in rubles. For instance, you cannot use Russian rubles to pay for the use of public transport even if you find the exact amount and do not need any change. You will be asked you to pay in the Ukrainian hryvnia. ‘The rubles are useless, I have to exchange them to hryvnias. You can use rubles in some places only if you have the exact amount. Very often they do not give you change. They just say they do not have change.’ complains Mikhail, one of the residents of Simferopol. The currency exchange offices in Crimea are not lagging behind either and earn on Crimean residents. The exchange rate is altering almost every hour. Very few currency exchange offices use fixed exchange rates and you almost always need to bargain when you exchange rubles into hryvnias. People have to queue up to exchange rubles to hryvnias rather then hryvnias to long-awaited rubles.
Product prices as well as service fees have grown by 20% on average in the last 2 weeks. According to the residents of Crimea the prices rise every day. The prices for medication (both imported and produced locally) have seen the sharpest rise. It turns out that medication is much cheaper in Kyiv as the average salary is twice as high as the average wage in Crimea.
Shortage of medication
A lot of medications, especially the imported ones, are in short supply in Crimea. At the moment they are not delivered from Russia as the pharmacies in Crimea have not received Russian licenses yet. However, the delivery of imported medicine through Ukraine has already stopped.
Tourist season 2014 and the world isolation
The most popular phrase in the Ukrainian media recently is ‘The tourist season in Crimea is ruined’ and this is not an understatement. The owners of the hotels and guest houses report a sharp fall in tourist numbers with weak hotel occupancy rate for May holidays – only 20-30%. Compare this with 90% in the previous years. The booking rates are not going down though, as they depend on the volatile exchange rate of the US dollar.