ZBARAZH, Ukraine 一 Utility prices spiked in Ukraine by almost double as unemployment is rising and monthly incomes are dropping, placing pressure on the nation during the pandemic.
More than half a million people registered with the State Employment Centre in 2020, officials report, but the government nevertheless boosted utility rates at the end of December, some doubling.
The unemployment rate was at 9.3 per cent last September in the nation of about 41 million people, up from 8 per cent in September 2019. The average monthly income dropped in November 2020 to 11,987 hryvnia, or about C$545, from 12,174 hryvnia, or about C$553 a month earlier, according to government sources.
Officials explained they set European prices, but the salary and pension in the European Union are five times higher than in Ukraine.
This means Ukrainians could be spending almost 90 per cent of their income on utilities.
People went to the streets demanding officials to lower their bills.
The furious crowd reached the administration office in Uzhgorod, about 800 kilometres southwest of the capital Kyiv. Vitaliy Shatylo, the head of the natural company Transcarpathian Gas, was hiding behind his chair as dozens of indignant people entered his office.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky allowed the Cabinet of Ministers to raise utility prices but has recently swung the other way, attempting to lower prices in the face of angry protestors.
At the beginning of the quarantine, prices for utilities were significantly lower. For the first 100 to 150 kilowatts of electricity people paid 0.9 hryvnias (four cents Canadian), and the price would almost double for the rest of the month.
But during the pandemic, the government decided to double rates for all time periods, and doing it in the middle of the winter forced people to turn off heating. One kilowatt per hour can only heat two small rooms for an hour.
Water suppliers have also been forced to raise their prices. Fees rose by 16 per cent and now ranges between $1 and $2 Canadian in some cities for a cubic metre of water, equivalent to a shower a month.
And the cost is higher in small towns.
Ukrainians are dependent on natural gas for heating and cooking. Before the quarantine people paid six hryvnias for a cubic metre of gas, or about 27 cents Canadian, and a year later it is averaging nine hryvnias or 41 cents for the same amount.
“For the water supply, rates are set by the local authorities,” said Roman Polikrovsky, mayor of Zbarazh, about a six-hour drive west of Kyiv. “The price depends on a lot of components. In each locality, it is different depending on the length of network and number of subscribers.”
Citizens in Zbarazh have even more to complain about. The changes were announced on Jan. 5 but were implemented all the way back in October of 2018, a fact only released after the recent mayoral elections.
Polikrovsky said he didn’t remember when he discovered the new utility prices, although, without his vote, the current rates couldn’t be set.