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10 Feb, 2009 06:49

Workers suffer under deepening economic crisis in Ukraine

The economic crisis in Ukraine is escalating, and while the government is pointing fingers at each other, social unrest is growing as people lose their jobs or remain unpaid for months.

The crisis is most visible in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, where more than a thousand workers at a combine harvester factory have not received any wages since September.

“They were forcing us to retire. But I didn't. Where else do we have to go? It's the same thing everywhere,” said one disgruntled factory worker.

The average salary here is around $US 200, which is barely enough to make ends meet as prices in Ukraine are growing rapidly.

Aleksandra Tkachenko works at the factory and says that she lives in the fear that tomorrow she'll have nothing left to be able to feed her family. Her entire family now lives off the pension of Aleksandra's husband, which is less than $US 100 a month.

Recently, her husband suffered a brain hemorrhage and the strain is taking its toll.

“You can't imagine what a life we life. I've spent half of the pension on medicine for my husband, but that won't even last till the end of the month,” says Tkachenko.

The owners of the factory say they can't pay the salaries because the combine harvesters are not being sold. The situation in Kherson is one of the first explosions of public rage in Ukraine over the current economic crisis. Experts claim work at almost all factories and mines in the country is either suspended or under threat.

By spring, unemployment is expected to grow by four times, topping almost four million people. The public outcry to the consequences of the economic crisis that is gripping Ukraine is getting louder, as more workers put down their tools to protest.

Unemployment in Ukraine is soon expected to hit levels not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. Public opinion indicates that what people want is for the government to stop the infighting and to give them the helping hand they desperately need. The crisis of trust among the country’s political elite isn’t helping the situation either.

The president and the opposition blame the government of Yulia Timoshenko for failing to tackle the crisis, or find the right ways to spend the billions of dollars loaned from the International Monetary fund.

Timoshenko says the government needs more money and fewer obstacles from both the parliament and the president. Her latest move – a request for more loans, including five billion dollars from Russia – has yet again provoked the wrath of the president.

“President Yushchenko says the step undertaken by the government without his knowledge is unacceptable and has obvious signs of corruption,” says Irina Vannikova from the Ukrainian Presidential Administration.

With the president and his government failing to agree upon ways out of the crisis, the country plunges ever deeper into a recession, leaving millions of people without work, and in the fear that they will soon have nothing to put on the table.