Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Decline in the hinterlands

We spent a part of the previous weekend in the village at my in-law’s place. While there, my father-in-law informed me that they had had an investor interested in leasing land there and putting in a chicken farm. He would have used the cooperative buildings and equipment and depended on the cooperativistas land for his business needs. It all would have been leased and it would have been state of the art. What is perhaps more significant is that it would have employed close to 200 persons. That is an awful lot of people for a village that numbers not much more than that.

But I say “would have” because it isn’t going to happen. The cooperative that would have been “co-opted” for the purpose polled its members and a number of them came back with a “no.” They thought life was fine as it is, that they get about a metric ton of grain from the coop as it is and that having a chicken farm was not something that would add anything to their lives. And that was it as far as the investor goes. He is now off looking for some other place. And this little village languishes.

I was stunned when I heard it. It’s not a case of their entering the twentieth century; progress is good and all that. That is not why I was stunned. They do have a life. It’s not something we would consider to be a life, but it is a life to them and enjoyable to them. If it were simply a matter of progress, I wouldn’t have been so struck by it.

The problem is not progress, the problem is keeping the young people there in the village. I have written about this before but more and more of the young are leaving the villages to make their way in the larger cities. Some would see that as a good thing. But we are talking about their getting jobs that pay at the most $200 for what skills they bring and a lot will make less than that. And they are coming to the large cities to live where? With relatives? If they have them which is not certain. They end up having to find a room because renting an apartment is just out of the question. For two room apartments, and that means just two rooms--kitchen and bathroom excepted--the rent is over $250 a month in Kiev, last we looked. And it keeps going up in price. (Some think the price will be $300 by year’s end.) So goodbye to all their hard earned pay for the whole month to make their rental payment.

And don’t even think about buying a home, which here is an apartment. Mortgages can be found but they are not all that widespread and the interest rates are 17% with an inflation index to make sure the bank gets its money, all of its money, back with interest no matter the economic conditions of the country. There aren’t many who can afford that kind of thing, not coming from the village anyway. It is cheaper in some of the other cities and in some of the outlying areas of Kiev, but not enough to make a go of it at $200 a month or less.

That company was offering the same pay for people to work on the chicken farm in that village. $200 a month in that village and in any village in the Ukraine is a very good salary. (In Western Ukraine, it would be a very, very good salary.) They could afford a house there after not too many months of saving, though maybe not a new white brick home that the more affluent have built. And they would have their plot of land nearby for their vegetables and maybe some animals. Their electricity costs and gas costs would be only a few dollars a month. With all of those advantages, they would be putting quite a bit of money away, relatively speaking. So the young people who might be lured away to life in the city could stay there in the village.

That is my problem with the whole thing. It isn’t the older people that’s the issue at all. It is the younger ones. And the fact that they voted what was simply their own very narrow interests, not thinking about the fate of their own village, is beyond me. They will live to an old age, though some of them not so old because of the harshness of the life, and then die off. One by one the houses will be vacant and then there will be no village. Their children might, might, come back at times to visit the old homestead. But that is extremely doubtful-- they will be too busy trying to scratch out a life for themselves in the city to have much time for that.

1 comment:

ash said...

Call it "Mysterious Ukrainian Soul" ;). Or ask here and there what a peasant's life looked like in a typical soviet village (don't be surprised to catch yourself thinking "slavery" much too often). Of course, it would have been best to devote a portion of one's life to living through a couple of years in a village and like a peasant or a de-classed village worker to get the correct perspective and the real understanding, but that's too cruel to ask anyone for in the first place, so let's skip it.

However, at the same time, those people living and working in our villages be they independent farmers or old-style kolhospnyks are worthy of every bit of respect and admiration one can muster in one's heart. You want to find the nation's best and truest representatives, find the genuine never-to-expire reason to be fond of Ukrainians - you should look at them.