A friend of mine grew up during the downfall of the Soviet Union. He recently wrote some of his remembrances.
The following are his words, unedited by me, exactly as he wrote them.
"I've been putting this post off for a long
time. More so until I was sure that it would be taken seriously than
any other reason. This post is about my childhood mostly and the
current state of things. This is MY OPINION and MY MEMORIES. Does it
hold any value - I'll just ask that you decide on your own.
I was born in 1984 in Ukraine. I was in first grade when the USSR
collapsed. I'm old enough to hold memories of seeing The Wall fall on
TV. It didn't make much sense back then, but it sure does now. My
first school book had a portrait of Lenin on the cover page. My pins
from the shooting classes I took had the hammer and sickle on them.
Yes, I was born in a communist state. That I think is more important
than that is that I lived through a collapse of a huge country. This
post is about that experience, but first I'll still talk about things I
remember about the country I was born in. I was not a healthy child.
My mom likes to blame it on Chernobyl, but more likely it's just the
chemical industry in the area I lived in. My grandmother used to spend
WEEKS with me sitting in lines at different doctors. The sign up
process was something like this: at the registration desk there were
journals with tear-out time slots for each doctor. If you needed to see
a doctor you went and tore out the time slot for the given day and you
still had to try and be first in line. The doctors were rude, they
would never honor the time slots, they would spend hours talking to
colleagues and taking private appointments that paid under the table
while they had a miniature angry mod of elderly women with their grand
kids sitting in the hall. I remember we had to come back four different
days to get to an endocrinologist because she would close her door,
walk to a different office and would take private appointments. This is
how free healthcare looked like back then. Ukraine has free healthcare
now and it is still the same. The doctors - underpaid, the lines -
long, the quality of care... um, did I mention bringing your own sheets
if you're ever admitted to a hospital? The good thing was that
medication was cheap, basic meds were well covered in school and we all
knew how to deal with most situations. My mom may be overdramatizing
things, but when she told me the conditions in which my younger sisters
were born I'm just surprised we're all alive and well today. When the
country broke up the only way to get health care was by way of barter.
You could sit there for many days in that line and not be seen if you
had not brought something of use with you. I REMEMBER that very
Healthcare wasn't the only problem. Food quickly disappeared from
the market shelves. I started doing food shopping for our family right
around the third grade. I personally stood in an 18 hour long bread
line to purchase a single loaf of rock hard wheat bread. It was
rationed too. There were people trying to cut in line, women, kids my
age, elderly... people were angry enough that nobody was allowed to do
that and fight broke out over spots in line. At some point the only
three items freely available at my local store were sugar, sunflower
oil, and baking soda. This lasted for many months. This was the time
that the bakeries, the meat processing plants, the dairy farms,
everything, was being fought over and torn apart by people trying to
score yet another piece of ex-government property that could give them
an upper hand during these times. Anything with no guards could get
overtaken and/or stolen. Even with guards some places changed hands
violently. People survived mostly because either they themselves or
their relatives had plots of land in the country and they raised their
own food. We canned a lot of fruit since our dacha was near Odessa
and fruit grew well there. We would trade a 2 liter jar of peaches for a
bag of flour, or for a few kilos of potatoes, or this or that... we
managed to live through it and most others did too.
For a while we had no national currency... at some point "currency"
was an A4 sized piece of paper with cut off squares with the face value
on them. The only protection method was the color of the paper. After
that came the so called coupons. They were real currency, but they
devalued so quickly that a month delay of pay at the factory where my
dad worked made his salary into nothing... and the pay was delayed at
times for over six months. It got to the point of very ridiculous where
I couldn't buy a kilo of meat even though I had millions in my pocket.
Prices for a 2 bedroom apartment in good condition hovered around 2K
USD and that was a lot of money. People would trade apartments and
cars as needed. Posts about "will trade 2 bedroom apartment for land"
were common as people would cram into their parents' apartments and
getting land to feed of off.
Everything that could be turned in for cash was up for grabs by
thieves. You leave a rake in the open on your plot and it would get
stolen. High voltage power lines were cut and turned in for copper.
The whole country turned into scrappers. I recall myself turning in
bottles and jars that I could collect for extra money... three hundred
little 250ml jars bought me one herring fillet for the holiday meal.
Walking outside at night wasn't advisable anywhere in the country.
There was no lights, trash wasn't being removed for many months, stray
dogs in packs became a real threat with nobody to take care of such
problems. Water could be shut off for months, electricity for weeks,
gas for weeks as well. We used to take turns at walking the 6
kilometers to the nearest well to get water.
There was NOTHING positive about the period of time from 1991 until
1999 when we immigrated to the states. There was no improvement in
sight. We were desperate when we left. A family of engineers and
teachers that could barely survive.
I am now back to living in Kiev for personal reasons. When I visit
my hometown I see that those times are not over still there. Ukraine
overall looks better than it did when we left, but all of the problems
still remain in parts of it. It's been over 20 years now and you can
SEE the echo.
Just to clarify... I'm posting this as a warning based on what I've seen with my own eyes. Take it as you may see fit."
For those of you who still think this over reaching of the Government in our personal lives is good for us, please re-read what he wrote above.