While the relations of the Soviet Union and the West kept the goods exchange at a minimum during the Cold War, the USSR used the Iron Curtain’s policy to control its people as well. When that curtain finally fell in 1989, and the door ‘abroad’ opened, imported equipment flooded the market. It was expensive: a family might have bought an apartment for the price of a foreign car.
Contraband equipment was rather expensive at the beginning of the 1990s. A high quality Japanese tape recorder could fetch a smuggler a good fortune. Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, and Philips boomboxes were in colossal demand. Double cassette recorders for copying music topped everyone’s wish list. But over time, these status symbols significantly reduced their importance: remember portable tape players? In the late ‘80s, wealthy parents could bring those ‘Walkman’ players from abroad as gifts for their spoiled kids. In the ‘90s, players were no longer a luxury, although still expensive.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were the time of video clubs. Back then, 10–20 people would gather in a spacious room to watch videotapes with foreign movies recorded on them. In the late ‘90s, when VCRs appeared in many homes, we began to rent video cassettes for home viewing. Some people invested in TV/VCR combi sets. Ten years later, DVD players to playback DVD-Video and DVD-Audio discs (two different and incompatible technical standards), some with karaoke functions, replaced outdated devices.
The legendary ‘Montana’ watch, Polaroid cameras and camcorders were among the fashion trends of the ‘90s.
Portable game consoles like Game Boy, Electronics, Tetris and Dendy were all the rage in those days. For many of us, the first gadget to own was a pocket toy with a wolf catching falling eggs with a frying pan, where the gamer controlled the wolf’s reactions.
Back then, we actively used pocket calculators — Japanese Citizen and Casio. Also, during these times, personal computers claimed their place in Ukrainian homes. Computer Literacy and Usage (Computer Studies) appeared in the school curriculum. Advanced users could connect the keyboard to the TV and create their first masterpieces from a symbiosis of films, cassette records and tapes. Until the Internet became widely available, we used home PCs primarily for gaming.
A pager is a pocket receiver of personal messages. A person had to call the operator, provide the pager’s number and dictate a message to send a message to someone’s pager. In the nineties, having a pager was considered ‘cool’. that’s why pager owners wore the device on a belt as a sign of being in demand and having a career.
In 1993, our first president Leonid Kravchuk also became the first cell phone subscriber in Ukraine. The phone he used back then cost almost $3000. Add the price of $1000 for connection to that. And although our average salary at the time was only $25 a month, half a year later, there were 2800 Ukrainian subscribers to our first mobile network. Five hundred forty of them were in Kyiv. But the Millennium brought real ‘mobilisation’ to Ukrainians. The 2003 was a game-changer when the law forbade providers to charge incoming calls.
At the end of the 2000s, we experienced the Internet boom. If only 20% of Ukrainians were net users in 2007, five years later this number reached 50%. Now Ukrainian IT specialists are in demand worldwide. The Internet virtualised our communication and leisure and served us as a unifying force during our Orange Revolution and Maidan. Luckily, Ukrainian Internet users enjoy a high level of information freedom. The 2010s brought wireless Internet to the masses. As a result, Ukraine became one of the four countries with the cheapest mobile Internet in the world in 2021.