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Like Rest of Society, Soviet Planes Have Run Out of Gas

December 13, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ The cheery sign on the way to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport reads ″Aeroflot: At Your Service.″ But for passengers stranded for days in the airport’s squalid lounges due to a fuel shortage, the message seems a cruel joke.

″Is it really possible that a country with such amazing natural resources could run out of fuel?″ asked Svetlana Nikolayevna, a retired bread factory worker who had waited two days to fly to the Ukrainian city of Lvov.

More than half of all Soviet airports were closed and thousands of domestic flights delayed for the second day Friday. There were no flights to Moscow from Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains, the Far East or the republic of Kazakhstan, the Tass news agency reported.

The crisis, which has increased tensions among cranky passengers as they wait in long lines at airports, was the latest to torment the populace.

The Soviet Central Bank has announced it is out of cash, the city of Moscow is running critically low on food supplies, and prices on most goods inside Russia are due to at least triple on Jan. 2.

Western businesses have reported disruptions in international telephone links to Ukraine and Byelorussia in recent days. The Railways Ministry said this month it will no longer sell tickets to foreign countries for rubles due to the shortage of hard currency.

Hundreds of weary, haggard-looking would-be passengers were sprawled on boxes and suitcases at Vnukovo Airport’s crowded central waiting room Friday morning, perking up only periodically when rescheduled flights were announced.

On the computerized board listing arrivals and departures, airport officials had posted a new explanation for flight delays: Lack of Fuel.

″They’re just saying they have no fuel because there is complete disorder in the country,″ Nikolayevna explained. ″They’re just making fun of the people.″

″I spent the last two nights sleeping on chairs in the lounge upstairs,″ said Nadezhda Marinina, a cook in her 50s, who along with at least 30 other people were awaiting a flight to the Siberian peninsula of Chukhotka. The flight was originally scheduled to leave Wednesday.

″The administration told me the hotel airport was booked, and then they told me it was closed for renovation. I came here for a funeral, and now I can’t get home,″ said Marinina, beginning to sob.

Because of telephone problems, she said she has been unable to call her family in Siberia to tell them her flight was delayed.

Samuel Magadasian, 18, got stuck in Moscow Thursday trying to change planes on his way to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. ″It’s like this everywhere in the country now. Nobody thinks about anyone but himself. Nobody cares about what happens to the people,″ he lamented.

″This is just sabotage,″ said Alexander Malakhov, squatting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of luggage. ″Aeroflot employees don’t get big enough salaries. They don’t care who flies and who doesn’t.″

But for Susanna Nikogosian, the airport scene was just another sign that she had arrived back home.

Nikogosian, 40, still hadn’t obtained a ticket home to the Armenian capital of Yerevan from Moscow, where she arrived Dec. 1 from Bulgaria.

″We looked in (Bulgarian) stores and they were completely full. They live so well and they have everything. In Yerevan, we have absolutely nothing. Our stores are completely empty,″ the day care center teacher said. ″Now that we’re back, the nightmare is starting all over again.″

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