At the dawn of independence, Ukraine plunged into an era of severe shortages. When hyperinflation reached 10 000%, we lived in the time of entrepre- neurs and so-called ‘paper millionaires’.
Backed neither by gold nor by foreign exchange reserves, paper coupons replaced our money. They were of so little value that even con artists saw no point in counterfeiting them. The first batch of those coupons lacked both a serial number and purchasing power.
At that time, Ukrainian favourite cooked ham sausage rose up to 500 000 coupon-rubles/ kg. But even at such an astronomic price, buying this sausage was next to impossible, just like purchasing other groceries, clothes and cleaning products. In a joke invented in the ‘90s, a hostess asked her guests, ‘Would you rather drink your tea with sugar or wash your hands with soap?’
Back then, many businesses paid their employees with their company produce. To survive, Ukrainians had to learn to sell, including what they have had earned. And so, even teachers, doctors and scien- tists turned into traders, and educational degrees almost lost their significance. Being resourceful in the ‘90s was more valuable than being a university degree’s bearer.
Eventually, with so many sellers, trade moved from shops to the street. Folding beds lined cities and towns, serving as stalls for those who had something to sell. Buyers could find anything in those spontaneous markets, from second- hand items to deficit goods: imported clothes, perfumes, cosmetics, and books.
Sellers delivered their stuff to the bazaars using ‘kravchuchka’ — a homemade trolley bag nicknamed after the then President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk. ‘Kravchuhcka’ became an iconic sym- bol of the ‘90s hardship.
Commission shops, another relic of the ‘90s, resembled second-hand shops. But while the title ‘second-hand’ was reserved for pre-worn clothes from abroad, the commission shops resold everything previously owned by us: outfits, tableware, jewellery, appliances, furniture and even car spare parts. Odesa boasted the coolest commission shops. They sold plenty of fashionable goods brought by the sailors from overseas.
Kiosks or booths (metal cabins with a large glass window) often surrounded pedestrian areas of towns and cities. Convenient for those on the go, they sold fizzy drinks, juices, chewing gums, chocolate bars, cigarettes and alcohol. Later, they expanded their range to condoms, toys, lingerie and pre-recorded audio and video cassettes.
In 1996, Ukraine introduced its currency — hryvnia, worth 100 000 coupon-rubles. And so the era of currency exchange kiosks began. Initially, 1.8 UAH cost 1 USD. However, by 1999, one dollar cost 5 hryvnias. Consequent devaluations happened in 2008 and 2014.
The Millennium economic recovery civilized trade in Ukraine. Beauty salons and barber shops sprouted around and boomed from the 2010s replacing the classic hairdressers. That time also had its casualties, like traditional public baths, called ‘banya.’ They forever disap- peared from the service sector around now. Some banyas were demolished, others turned into sau- nas and hammams.
However, the shoe repair booths of today’s Ukraine could actually be seen as a “time ma- chine”. In 2021, shoe repair places look exactly like they did thirty years ago.
The old ‘supermarkets’ turned into ‘hypermarkets’ and malls. Their heyday came in 2010s when the pace of life accelerated. With no shortages seen in the 90s, Millennials and Zoomers suffer from lack of time. Therefore, ample shopping and en- tertainment centres (malls) serve us as one-in-all leisure hubs: shops, cafes, bars, bowling, cinema, food areas, nail salons and even a casino with an option of indoor parking for drivers.