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Soviet Retirees Forced to Work Dread Price Hikes With PM-Soviet-Prices, Bjt

April 2, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Three days a week, Vera Luchagina wakes up at 5 a.m. and takes the subway to Krasnopresnensky Univermag, one of Moscow’s largest department stores. She scrubs floors and watches over the employee coatroom.

If she’s lucky, she makes it home by 10 p.m.

Next month, she will be 70 years old.

″I like the work,″ she says, standing in front of the store’s crumbling back stairways. ″But look how fat I am. Every day it gets more and more difficult to make the climb.″

Luchagina is one of thousands of Soviet retirees - mostly women - who sweep streets, clean subway platforms and do other menial labor to supplement pitifully small government pensions that can be as low as 60 rubles a month.

Such as Luchagina expect the price increases taking effect today to make life even tougher.

President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s government has proposed raising monthly pensions by as much as 60 rubles for so-called ″working pensioners,″ but that will not help most retirees, who say their pensions are too low to start with.

To make ends meet, they must keep working.

Milk and egg prices are nearly doubling and the price of cooking oil has doubled to 3.40 rubles a liter. Bread will jump from 20 to 60 kopecks a loaf. Aman’s wool suit is now 245 rubles.

″The whole country is falling apart, to put it bluntly,″ said Luchagina, who earns 130 rubles a month for her work at the store, just less than half the average wage. ″We have only horrible things to look forward to.″

Pensioner Vera Akimova, 66, spends her days trundling heavy metal carts full of clothing, shoes and handbags in and out of the store’s freight elevator.

If she has any free time, she sweeps the sidewalk outside the store, backbreaking work with a broom made from large twigs loosely fastened together. For sweeping, Ms. Akimova receives an additional 30 rubles to add to her monthly salary of 130 rubles.

For Soviets past retirement age, often the only jobs available are those nobody else wants.

″Only old people would take a job cleaning up around here,″ said Natasha Fiaktistova, a 27-year-old clerk at the store. ″Cleaning isn’t a prestigious job. I wouldn’t do it.″

Viktor Afanasyev, head of the store’s economics department, acknowledged that the retirees in his store do all the dirty work. ″If pensioners got bigger pensions, they’d all quit,″ he said.

On the Arbat, a pedestrian throughfare in central Moscow, 65-year-old Nastya stood selling crudely painted dolls for 80 rubles a set.

Nastya, who declined to give her last name, came to Moscow from the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, formerly called Gorky, to visit a private doctor.

The treatment she’ll receive there is better than that provided by the free government health service, she believes.

With no friends in the capital and no hope of getting a hotel room, the sick woman has been spending nights at the train station.

″I hate coming here. It’s like being in hell,″ Nastya said, pointing to the crowds swarming on the Arbat. ″In my village it’s quiet and peaceful. People here are like worms.″

But as her doctor charges for her visits, Nastya has no choice but to try her hand as a saleswoman.

″This is the only way I’ll be able to earn enough money,″ she said.

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