Winter 1991 – 1992

Before I proceed with my story, I wanted to reply in more details to the comments on the previous post. “The nineties” was a very prolonged period, each several months the economic situation would change drastically. The time I was talking about in the previous post was from late fall 91 to spring 92, maybe a little bit more than that. Again, I am not going to consult the Wiki, to check the exact dates of all the legislation which were coming out these days. I am trying to recall as precise as possible how I felt back then.

In September, when I just came back from the hospital with Anna and Vlad it was not that bad yet. You could actually buy at least some things in the stores, and I remember that Boris was occasionally bringing me some groceries which he would manage to “get,” waving off my attempts of financial independence. This was one of the very few periods of our togetherness when I was OK with that.

I was eating a lot. I felt sick for the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy each time I was trying to eat something more than an apple, my body was not really processing anything. When I’ve checked into the hospital, the nurses were commenting “you are so thin!”, which sounded hilarious applied to my eight-months-pregnant with twins body, but they were right.

After Vlad and Anna were born, I started eating :). And there was actually stuff to eat. I remember making myself endless omelets with vegetables, cheese sandwiches, lots of black tea with whole milk, which was a traditional Russian breast milk production booster.

I believe things started to change for the worse in October, and then I barely had any protein till the end of the year. The hyperinflation was in full swing, and I had nothing except government subsidy for new mothers. The weirdest thing I remember about these times was my thinking about how in the world I could live on this little money till next month. I was thinking to myself: well, that’s what the government is giving for new mothers, if they came up with this sum of money, there should be a way to survive on it. It sounds completely ridiculous now, but I remember that back then these thoughts would provide some sort of comfort to me.

Another weird thing was that I was not really afraid neither of the future, nor of the present, and I was enjoying having my twins as much as I could. These moment won’t happen often, I was taking care of them by myself most of the days and nights, and there was no way I could console them each time they would cry. I had to feed myself, had to wash their diapers in a very primitive washing mashing, which could only rinse the clothes, and I had to hang them to dry. But still, there were moments, when I could seat, and look at their little faces and feel an endless satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the food situation had become worse. I have heard from many people that I am making things up, and they do not remember any of that. Well, some people could stay in long lines. Some people had their “victory gardens.” Some people just had more money. I had none, and I was not the only one in a similar situation. I remember ones passing a long line outside a butcher store, and I did have my ration cards with me. And I also had a paper that stated that I am a mother of three and thus allowed to skip the lines. I knew I had no chances, but I’ve still approached the line and asked: you won’t let me skip the line, will you? The answer was no, and I didn’t try to argue.

The milk was my constant worry, I had three children at home, and the non-pasteurised milk could only stay fresh for several days. Every morning a tank car with milk would arrive at a small square by our house, just half-way between our doors and Igor’s daycare. The line was always spiraling, but sometimes people would allow me to skip it. Ones after I’ve dropped Igor and was hurrying home to get back to my babies before my mom would leave for work, I’ve asked to skip the line and get some milk. Half of the line started to yell at me: “Where are those children of yours? We do not know anything about your children!” I began to cry. A person who was dispensing milk pulled me away from the crowd, pored me a glass of milk to drink, and then filled my canister. But I never tried to come to this tank car again.

Almost none of the breastfeeding mothers could get proper nutrition and pediatricians were strongly recommending to start adding solid food as soon as possible often before the babies were 4 months old. Baby food was almost non-existent. I would go to the market in front of our Metro station, buy two apples, cut them into two pieces each, and make tiny portions of puree for Vlad and Anna – for four days.

Late in the fall, the humanitarian aid started to arrive. That was a huge relief, especially that I could worry a little bit less about milk – the was some dry milk in every box. But still, it was very sporadic, so quite often I was left to guess whether something will come within the next two weeks. I remember a Christmas gift from Germany, which arrived just a couple of days after Christmas – the most neatly packed box I’ve ever seen, filled with different sweets, tea, coffee, canned ham, and I forgot what else. I have no idea which organization conducted the distribution of the gifts, but the box had a return address to Henrich Shiller and two words in English written by it: please respond! I did write to this address, not really holding a hope since I knew from the Soviet Union times, that foreign correspondence won’t leave the country in most of the cases.

Actually, even before that, back in the fall, there was an airplane from Gdansk, but this story is so surreal that it deserves a separate blog post.

Once again, it may be hard to believe that I didn’t find our situation desperate, but quite often our relationships with Boris worried me much more than what we are going to eat in two weeks. And I look quite happy at this picture taken at the end of November:

9 thoughts on “Winter 1991 – 1992

  1. Я не знаю, кому было хорошо в России в девяностых. У меня нет таких знакомых. Мы уехали в Эстонию летом 90го, тогда в Петрбурге уже макароны (!) были по карточкам. Осенью 91го я была беременной, но сытой, потому что в Эстонии, но в Питере такие же беременные падали в голодные обмороки. И потом, когда мы вернулись, мы выживали только за счет маминого натурального хозяйства и военного пайка, все девяностые до самого конца.
    Было очень тяжело.


    1. Translation:
      I do not know anybody who would be fine in Russia in the nineties. I do not have such friends. We left for Estonia in the summer of the 90th, then in St. Petersburg, even pasta was rationed. In the fall of the 91st I was pregnant but not hungry since we lived in Estonia, but in St. Petersburg the pregnant women would have hungry faints. After we returned back we survived only due to my mother’s garden and military rations, all the nineties until the very end.
      It was very hard.


  2. Yes, and we should talk about that. You know, only now, when I started to write down all these things in detail, I’ve realized how much of it I never told anybody. We do not like to remember it, the same as war veterans do not like to remember the combat. But we should. Otherwise, all sorts of myths start to grow in the information desert.


  3. 1991, especially towards its end, was indeed the worst year of food shortages. I remember that by the end of that year cheese became a forgotten taste because it was just not available anywhere. It only reappeared in January 1992 at market prices that were 30x or more of the original fixed price. In small towns, grocery stores were just sitting empty in 1991, with as little on the shelves as glass jars with sweet beverage called “juice”, brown paper bags wit green onions, and, if you were in luck, potatoes and bread.


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