Pennies from Russian heaven

“No metal?” asked the marshrutka (bus) driver, hopefully, as I got on at the beginning stop – the first passenger on the 1st June – and gave him a crisp new 50 rouble note.

“sorry, no change.”

“At the next stop: “No metal? No metal at all?” The hope in the driver’s voice dying a bit more each time.

“Sorry…”

“No.”

“Of course I haven’t got any change!”

“Where the ***!!! would I get change from?”

And so it goes, all the way into town. On my bus at least, most people were fairly good-natured, we all pitied the suffering driver. But life just got yet harder for everyone in Crimea, as the Crimean ‘government’ changed its mind yet again (lied yet again) and instead of the promised dual currency zone (roubles and hryvnyas) until the end of 2016 decided it would be a great idea to impose only the Russian rouble from 1st June.

But there is no small change. Apparently it’s being  flown in from Russia; planes full of two and five and ten rouble coins. Pennies from heaven.

They must be being rolled down the road one by one from Simferopol airport, or something. I tried to buy a bottle of water today and couldn’t  – no change. I tried to buy a notebook and couldn’t – no change. My friend tried to buy some medicine at the chemist’s and couldn’t – no change.

When Crimeans got their first salaries in roubles in March, the exchange rate with the Ukrainian hryvnia was 3.8. Now it’s supposed to be 3. Except it isn’t, or it selectively is and is not. 2.75 hryvnias for a bus journey has mysteriously become 10 roubles. My friend’s medicine which used to cost 12 hryvnias cost 55 roubles today. Or it would have cost her that much had she been able to buy it, which she couldn’t, because the chemist had no change.

Traders incur fines if they accept payments in hryvnias after 1st June. At a cafe today I couldn’t buy a coffee for 36 roubles – no change.

“No metal?” asked the cashier, hopelessly.

“Just hryvnias…”

His prompt reply: “Twelve hryvnias then.”

So we made an illegal transaction in Ukrainian money, and I have never felt so fond of a currency in my life. My coffee definitely felt three times cheaper, three times better value…

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