Last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Washington, determined to put a new, more confident face on his beleaguered country. He made an emotional speech at both houses of the U.S. Congress and met with President Barack Obama. In the end, he left with neither arms nor serious financial aid. Little wonder, then, that back home, Kievans are frustrated and anxious. Facing increasing economic hardship, they have little hope that things will get better.
Things couldn’t get much worse. Ninety-three percent of Ukrainians say that the economy is in bad shape, and they are right. The IMF forecasts a 15 to 20 percent decline in Ukraine’s GDP this year, and Kiev may need an additional $19 billion from the fund just to keep the government afloat. Meanwhile, the hryvnia is in free fall. The devaluation, and a run on deposits (Ukrainians have withdrawn around 101 billion hryvnia since the beginning of the year), recently led to the collapse of 17 of Ukraine’s 180 banks. Fifteen more are close to default.
Alarmingly for average Ukrainians, electricity prices are expected to increase by 10 to 40 percent over the next year and gas for heat by 50 percent. As winter approaches, Kiev is preparing to take extreme steps to counter the effects of the ongoing Russian gas embargo. It has already started importing coal from South Africa (production at many of the country’s mines has been disrupted by the conflict in the east) and turning off electricity twice a day to conserve resources. Hot water, likewise, has been deemed a luxury; the capital city has been without it since July. Local TV stations regularly advertise burzhuikas, primitive stoves that run on wood, and call on people to install water and gas meters in order to save energy. Older people are stocking up on candles, batteries, and flashlights.