Russia. People from the 90s, tell us what it was like, really?

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  • #68452 Reply

    Hi, I’m Tanya, a Russian person who knows English.
    Thanks to the kindness of the owner of this site and because of the community’s interest in the real people’s mood in Russia, I will translate for you some of the opinions. The theme of these opinions is the 90s in Russia.

    Let me remind you that at that time there were civil wars in Somalia, Algeria and Liberia;
    Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini clashed over oil and influence;
    Cheney and Powell invaded Panama;
    the UK has tried to sort out troubles with the IRA;
    the Cold War ended and Soviet troops were leaving Europe;
    Germany was uniting and the huge USSR fell apart into many small parts, in each of which there was a fierce struggle for power.

    Was Mr. Murray somewhere in Poland during this period, or was he watching the Iraqi embargo? Only 10 years later he would come to Uzbekistan, where Karimov took power back in 1991 and held it his entire life up to death.

    In 1990 I was 12 years old. Old enough to understand a lot, but child enough to miss a lot. I lived in a small provincial town near the Black Sea – Asian cultures to the East, the Caucasian republics to the South, Ukraine across the sea to the West from us, and Moscow is very very far away somewhere in the North, twice as far as the capital of Chechnya.

    The period of the 90s in Russia was incredibly difficult. The memories of other people remind of my own wounds, about which I cannot speak without tears. I apologize for some emotionality and sensitivity.

    #68453 Reply

    The source of these translations is russian social media Pikabu – a place with very reasonable moderation, which prohibits only direct personal insults and posts that openly violate the law. Everything else is allowed. Even obscene language, and the participants are very happy about that. * I must warn about this, since this type of speech in the Russian mentality is not aimed at offending others, but performs the function of strengthening and emotional coloring for the text *

    The wave of post started 4 days ago by this post

    “Recently the relatives gathered for a feast, during which the topic of the 90s was also discussed. It is noteworthy that opinions differed.
    Someone said: “Oh, there were times, not like now”; “The 90s is the most fun time”.
    Others replied: “Don’t listen to them, these are” great times ” are devastation, hunger, banditry and drunkard Yeltsin.”
    Someone said that there has never been and never will be a worse moment for Russia, like the 90s. Black mark for the history of the Russian Federation.

    Opinions about business and about people differed: “I built a business in the 90s, and now it’s some kind of childish talk, today’s people would not have survived in that environment”
    “What business are you talking about? racketeering and prostitution!”; “They were not kind people, but loosers! now the people’s eyes have opened”; “Not true, people were sincere, kind and sympathetic” … and so on.

    What were the 90s like for you? Share your impressions

    #68455 Reply

    the answer post that hit over 8000 approval points

    What was it like? Somewhat like that:

    I beg your pardon for the chaotic presentation!

    – I ask my mother to visit friends, to eat

    – stepfather is not paid a salary

    – only my grandmother has money, her pension is 274 rubles. Sugar packet costs 130.

    – stopped going to school because my shoes were torn

    – we get some money by collecting bottles for the recycling

    – Mom says in the bus that I am 6, and the cunning conductor asks which grade I am in. I unwittingly reveal our deception. They did not kick out the bus, but they said to beware of the controllers *kids under school age used public transport without payment*

    – mom and stepfather do not drink, but look lost

    – the “masters of life” appear, they have fighting dogs that drive us children around the yard. The owners only grin

    – a crime boss is killed, for a commemoration a treat in the yard. You can devour

    – policemen were killed in Chechnya, the whole city is watching the coffins on carriages

    – I’m sick of rice, I vomit from it already

    – stepfather learned to cut our hair, because there is no money for a hairdresser

    – faint at school

    – drug addicts in the entrance halls

    – I wear my mother’s sneakers, which she bought during the USSR in the Baltics

    – brother has abscesses due to avitominosis

    – while it’s too early for the harvest at grandma’s, the spring is generally bad

    – for the school Health Day, instead of choko-pai and cookies, I bring potatoes and cucumbers. It was a shame, but oddly enough, outdoors children eat potatoes better

    – I ate chicken only once in a couple of years …

    #68465 Reply

    Tatyana. Thanks for sharing your experiences of life in Russia. I have a question for you if I may. Craig as you know has expressed his opinion that Crimea should be ‘given back to the Tartars’ and they should have the right to return. My question is. What is stopping Tartars deported from Crimea or their descendants simply moving to Crimea? Do Russians have freedom of movement between republics of the Russian Federation or within republics?

    Personally I think Craig is on very shaky ground on this subject. He knows full well the population of Crimea is overwhelmingly Russian and would vote to join the Russian Federation as they have already done.

    #68469 Reply

    Hi, Derek, thanks for your interest and for your question.
    Yes, we move freely all over the country, though, if you travel to another region you may be stopped by the road police at the police posts on federal roads. The police may check your drivers licence, also they check if you have necessary papers for the cargo in your truck. Buying a railway ticket or booking a flight requires your passport. So, you only cannot move across the country if you’ve got no identity documents on you. You’ll be stopped and most probably the police will investigate who are you and what is the purpose of your journey.

    “What is stopping Tartars deported from Crimea or their descendants simply moving to Crimea?”
    I don’t know what is stopping them from returning. Also, I don’t know why Mr. Murray get too agitated on this.
    We discussed this earlier on this site, so I’ll link you to the discussion

    Commentor Sergey writes 5 clear steps to get back to the Crimea

    #68471 Reply

    another posting on the 90s in Russia

    “Dad died in 1993. By that time I was married, our son was 4 years old. We lived in a private house, we had a vegetable garden and cattle. But Papa’s illness “ate up” all the supplies: the cattle were slaughtered, the garden was abandoned, only something grew here and there, we managed to make some supplies, but by the time Papa died they had eaten everything.

    My husband left to work, only my mother and I, my son and his little friends remained. There were chickens and a hornless goat “at launch” – pregnant, the milk was not coming soon … It was April, but some kind of cold one. Usually in April there is already some greens, and chickens lay eggs better when it’s warm, but… One property of dubious quality: a full cellar of melt water under a summer kitchen, transparent, cold…

    Once I go out into the garden and see children with my son at the head of the team, they are on all fours and gnaw something. F***! Earth? Or, what are they eating? It turned out they were gnawing tiny shoots of sorrel.

    – Mommy, we found sollel (sorrel), we have found it! Hurrah!

    F***… what a f*** f*** kind of mother I am, that my child eats already grazing forage? They don’t pay me at work, it’s good if someone brings in as payment flour, cereals, sugar or butter (I worked as a massage therapist then). Otherwise, the money went to the cashier, the rent and taxes were paid, and only three kopecks fell into my hands. Child benefits were not paid. Mom’s pension was delayed.

    I wandered into that summer kitchen, hid in a corner and howled … my husband was only supposed to return in a week. “Sollel” is not enough for that much … So, I was crying and suddenly I saw: what’s it that shines under the water in the cellar? I ran to get a flashlight. And there were jars! Jars of homemade salted lard, stew from our pigs and turkeys, tomatoes, compote, jam! Yes, that was an unheard of treasure! Yes, I’ll pump this water out with a pump right now and we will all be well fed. But, the pump did not recognize anyone but Papa. It gave me a severe electric shock and stopped working. What am I to do…

    What else to do. Dive.

    So I started diving. Three meters deep, the water is cold. But I pulled out this treasure.

    I remember we gathered all over the street then, dragged out a five-bucket saucepan, made up a brick hearth and cooked borscht on a fire, everyone brought smth: some carrots, some cabbage, frying in lard, stewed meat, scraped flour on the bottom of the barrel and made pampushki, now our kids ate! Right at the table some fell asleep, and some even dirtied their pants.

    The leftovers were consumed by adults with moonshine, and also were taken to old women too, who are single or not walking. Enough for everyone. They also baked potatoes in coals …

    Somehow we survived this cruel times. And then it seemed to become easier. Summer has come 🙂

    #68472 Reply
    Rhys Jaggar


    We have a saying in the UK: ‘History is written by the winners’.

    That is true of what children are taught in school.

    But in the era of the internet, ‘true history’ can be written by the survivors.

    It is important that these stories gain traction in the West. Many, many people need to understand that ‘winning the Cold War’ was not about egos grandstanding, it was about leaving the ordinary people of the ‘losers’ to fend for themselves in extraordinarily challenging conditions.

    #68473 Reply

    one more

    “I was born in 1976. I remember the 80s pretty well, but the 90s are imprinted in my head forever.

    Father and mother worked at the state farm, graduates. The state farm drastically shrank, there were no salaries, in principle, at first it was possible to get meat or grain for a salary, later all this was gone, people worked only for the opportunity to get a few loaves of bread from the state farm bakery. My father opened a farm, worked hard from morning to night, but the results of his labor were enough only to feed the family. The family had 4 sons, I was the eldest, the youngest, born in ’90. Getting us to school was tantamount to a feat.

    Some details:

    – my father went to the city to sell potatoes, the bandits came and took away everything that he brought for sale.

    – we sell vouchers to at least partially get ready for school *Privatisation vouchers, rich people bought them from poor people. Later these vouchers were used to get whole plants or even whole industries into private hands.*

    – homemade or altered socks, homemade mittens, homemade tea (of tinder fungis), tobacco products and shag are used as currency in the village.

    – ’93 I entered the pedagogical institute, almost all teachers have part-time jobs, someone sells, someone sews hats, they earn extra money in the institute’s workshop, make coffins and so on to order. The student canteen is functioning, but there is no money even for it. We ate tea and bread, hot food in the form of pasta or potatoes literally once a day, but sometimes even this we couldn’t have. The rampant banditry around, some of my classmates are in this mess, someone rips off people’s hats *fur hats stolen from people’s heads right in the street was very popular crime, the fur hats sold good*, someone fumbles through the pockets in the marketplace. Shooting here and there, both crime bosses and ordinary people killed, the corpses of shuttle traders from China found. Kiosks and stalls are being burned.

    – the father died in ’94. The mother stayed alone with young children. I became the eldest man in the family, while continuing to study at the institute. Financially, I could only rely on myself. In winter, my brother and me chopped firewood for money, in summer haymaking, harvesting, selling, preparing the younger ones for school, in the fall slaughtering cattle – selling meat.

    – in ’95, my brother went to the army, he served on the contract.

    – in 96, my mother had a serious fracture of her leg, could not walk normally for almost a year, life became many times more difficult, thanks to relatives for their help.

    – in 98, the second brother entered the academy (now a candidate of sciences, associate professor), I was expelled for academic debt and from the 5th year I went to the army.

    – how mother got through the years ’98 – 2000, I can only guess.

    – in 2002 I already bought myself a TV and VCR.

    For me, the 90s will never be Holy Time*, this is hard times, which I will not wish to anyone to see.”

    *the author refers to the words by Naina Eltsyn. She once called this period “Holy Time” and justified the “shock therapy policy”, saying that this state of affairs in the country allowed the development of democracy. As you can easily guess, a very large part of the Russian population reacted contemptuously to this statement.

    #68476 Reply

    Hi, Rhys Jaggar 🙂 thanks for stopping by, glad to see you!
    I cannot say that the 90s were more difficult than the post-war time for our parents, and even more so, the war time for our grandparents. But there’s a huge difference in perception.
    I mean, it’s one thing to know that an external enemy has attacked your country – then it’s a disaster, but a clear goal is visible and your actions are clear.
    It’s quite another thing to live in obscurity, when each neighbor survives on its own, when there is no state, no law, everyone who can escape from the country is fleeing, and the government is transferring resources under foreign control. The Russian people were not too spoiled by the good life before this period 🙂 so poverty did not frighten us. The uncertainty of the future was scary.

    #68477 Reply

    this post

    “On the very eve of the new 1990, I received a three-room apartment.

    How I got it, well… those of us on the waiting list *people were put on a waiting list to get housing, for free, from our then state* were invited after work to the factory bus, that brought us to the construction site. It’s evening, it’s already dark. There are trailers, tanks with mortar, bricks and all sorts of construction details. There are unfinished walls, street lights squeak and sway in the cold winter wind.

    They say:

    Here we are building a house for the factory workers. But the builders are not paid money, so they run away and we have little real prospect of completing this house. Therefore, tomorrow we will distribute apartments (whoever does not want this, those can refuse) and everyone will complete the apartment on their own. Don’t worry – plumbers will sometimes call on the object, electricians, carpenters – they will help if needed.

    On the first day off we went to build an apartment. In the half of the house where I was given an apartment there were already windows, the floor was filled in and the walls were plastered. In the other half, the construction site was at the level of the second floor. First of all, the doors were dragged from the heap in the yard, then little by little everything else. Whitewashed, painted, glued the wallpaper. I had to learn how to plaster, lay linoleum and do the wiring. The construction went on for more than half a year, in August they “passed the keys”, that is, water taps and parts for the gas stoves. Electricity as well as gas was not yet available. The security were removed, so several “volunteers” were left to spend the night and keep an eye on, so that nothing is stolen.

    We sat on a bench, drank vodka, went to bed.

    In the morning we get up – in Moscow there is a State Emergency Committee and tanks on the streets …

    And then – democracy came.

    The factories were still working, but the salaries were no longer paid. At the factory where I happened to work, I could get fire extinguishers, blowtorches and rubber hedgehogs instead of the salary, it was time to go to work for a bowl of soup.

    Yes, yes, the director ordered (with deduction from salary) to feed all the workers with lunch in the factory canteen. Many wrapped up the meatball and carried it to the children.

    In the event of a successful barter, the factory sometimes handed out food to the workers – sometimes a sack of flour, sometimes a sack of barley, or even a sack of pasta.

    The dacha was great support (dacha, well 6 “hundreds” of land *a hundred of land is 100 square meters=1/100 part of a hectar. Standard russian individual land site was 6 hundreds*) on which potatoes, marrows and cucumbers grew. It was then that I first tried pies with pumpkin. And it was still a bearable life – we didn’t faint of hunger (as happened with teachers, doctors and pensioners).

    A colleague quit and started his own business. He opened several round-the-clock kiosks with mandarine fruit, sneakers, and counterfeit vodka. Looking at the poor hard workers, he thoughtfully uttered “We must know how to live.”

    But the newly-minted businessman had a conflict, either with a “roof” *thugs or policemen patronizing business for tribute*, or with suppliers of oranges and counterfeit vodka. Him and his wife were found “without signs of life”, but with traces of torture in a local lake. The bodies were wrapped in barbed wire. They searched for their daughter (a girl of about 10 years old) for a long time, but she was never found.

    A classmate who was selling in a night booth was burned alive by some thugs along with the booth.

    A classmate who lived in Sumgait with his wife and two children perished in the fire of the Karabakh massacre. A neighbor received a coffin with her son’s body from Chechnya.

    The streets were filled with substance abusers and drug addicts, syringes scattered around every corner. After the “dry law”, counterfeit vodka under the popular name “chicha” and alcohol “Royal” poured onto the shop counters. Every day on TV there are explosions of businessmen, murders, advertisements of “Rasputin” vodka, all sorts of “MMM”, “Vlastelina” and other “RDS” *financial fraud companies like network marketing etc*

    #68491 Reply

    Thanks Tatyana for the informative response. I had not appreciated that many Tatars had been deported to Uzbekistan, but it is clear from your and Sergey’s posts that even those currently living outside the Russian Federation can return to Crimea if they wish.

    Those tales of life in the ’90s makes grim reading. I can well understand Russians not wanting to see those times return.

    #68499 Reply

    Thanks, Derek.
    In that discussion I wrote about the laws from 1991, that let Crimean Tatars to return. I considered it very important, because my own experience differs greatly from Mr. Murray’s.

    I live very near the Crimea, back in 1995-2000 I had a friend who lived in Kerch – the city in the Crimean peninsula. I know for sure there were TV and radio in Tatar language there, because we were linguist students and we discussed with my friend the Tatar language plural grammar forms. Tatar TV and radio provided samples for our modest linguistic research.

    Mr. Murray claims Tatars were never compensated. I think that misunderstanding happens because Mr. Murray speaks of his Uzbeki Tatar friends, those who didn’t return.

    Uzbeki Tatar diaspora leader made an interview, I translated it:

    Indigenous Eurasian Islamic Populations

    As you see, some found new home and have no desire to return. Some believe it’s hard task to return. Anyway, Uzbeki Tatars are NOT all the Crimean Tatars.
    e.g. Lenur Islamov, who started in ’80s in Uzbekistan. By today he owns a couple of banks, a couple of transport companies and an Apple retail network and a TV channel in the Crimea. Not bad, eh?

    He is russian citizen by the way, but he wants the Crimea to return to Ukraine. I can understand his opinion, but I don’t approve his methods, like blocking the railway or damage to electric poles *Tatar Majlis tried to arrange a blockade, Turkey helped with money and military aid*
    there’s his interview on this, in russian

    #68613 Reply

    Tatyana….3rd hand info you would have to check…. Tatar families have been able to claim some compensation near Simferopol…those families that were sent to Uzbekistan by Stalin and could “prove” their previous property owwnership….they can apply for and can receive plots of land – maybe not the best on the outskirts of the city – to build homes again. Some have done so….not sure how many. Many probably prefer not to as the historic association with Nazi times collaboration by some is of course remembered by the ethnic russians with long memories and an untrustworthiness of previous suspected and actual tatar local criminals…troublemakers. But of course was local Russian mafias too. Many prefer other countries such as USA ….Germany etc though families still feel quite attatched to their historic roots in Crimea. My Mrs remembers a piece of meat costing 4 roubles going up to 400. Family lost all their hard earned savings. Sense of devastation. Had to very very strong mentally to get through it all. Their produce from summer garden helped just to keep them going. Husband turned to vodka so lots of divorces etc. A report from MFA re Crimea states about Tatar inclusivity in politics.

    There are probably later ones…maybe the Crimean parliament produce them. Tatar representation in local communities and politics has kinda been put on a more solid basis.

    #69734 Reply

    @Tatyana – Has that become the standard usage of the term “cold war” in Russia now, to describe the period that ended at the end of the 1980s? In Britain and the USSR (and I lived in Russia in 1989), the term meant the period that ended in the early-to-mid 1960s, and it still does mean that among those who specialise in international relations – or who know what they’re talking about – who tend to laugh when we read some scribbler’s statement that, for example, the Fischer-Spassky match in Reykjavik happened “at the height of the Cold War” (it actually happened in the middle of détente), and who probably don’t know either the Test Ban Treaty or the Apollo-Soyuz link-up from their own задница.

    #69736 Reply

    Yes, we move freely all over the country, though, if you travel to another region you may be stopped by the road police at the police posts on federal roads. The police may check your drivers licence, also they check if you have necessary papers for the cargo in your truck. Buying a railway ticket or booking a flight requires your passport. So, you only cannot move across the country if you’ve got no identity documents on you. You’ll be stopped and most probably the police will investigate who are you and what is the purpose of your journey.

    Being allowed to travel long distances only if you show your identity papers to the police isn’t what most British people would call being allowed to travel freely.

    Is there still a “propiska” system in Russia? Or if there is, maybe it’s only in theory?

    It’s occurred to me that the British authorities may seek the advice of the Russian authorities with regard to operating an internal passport system.

    South Africa had, and Israel has, pass laws, which will also be a reference. Add pass laws to smartphones and the result is…

    #69766 Reply

    Just to let you know I’m not ignoring your questions. I’ll answer later this evening, ok?
    Have a nice weekend!

    #69772 Reply

    @Tatyana – You may be interested in this BBC radio programme about English novelist David Cornwell, who wrote as “John Le Carré”, broadcast yesterday. They skirt around his attitude towards the vile entity known as “the United States” (how could someone who has read his books and his political interviews miss that?), and the vile entity “Israel” too, and they prefer to give time for example to how he could do a good Cockney accent, but still – the programme is well worth listening to.

    One of the many things he should be honoured for is attacking the monster that is Big Pharma. Many would not even have a concept of Big Pharma were it not for him.

    I am sure that if he had lived he would have attacked the fascist-Big Pharma monster that has really put its kicking boots on since March last year.

    #69779 Reply

    to be honest, I don’t understand very well the meaning of the term “cold war” and the generally accepted time frame for it. It seems blurry and only meaningful to the older generation.

    As for freedom of movement, I don’t think it’s worth comparing Britain and Russia. We have 85 separate constituentcies in the Federation, with 16 land and 2 sea borders, with a population of slightly more than 2 times the population of Great Britain. Of course, our rules are different from yours.

    Propiska – yes, we have it. The place of permanent residence. Usually it is filled in in the passport.
    This does not oblige a citizen to live there in reality, but all state, bank, tax, voting notifications are mailed to there.
    In addition, a person may have a current residence address, which is important for medical care, child’s school, and the like. To get these state services in the nearest clinic/school a citizen must notify state of the current address, usually via house management company.

    #69923 Reply
    Rhys Jaggar


    The Cold War broadly ran from 1945 and became formalised with Churchill’s speech about ‘an Iron Curtain descending on our continent’. It ended with the collapse of Communism in the USSR and Eastern European States.

    The Cold War was really about the nuclear arms race at its heart. There emerged concepts such as MAD aka Mutually Assured Destruction (in other words, once you have enough nuclear warheads to completely obliterate each other, it doesn’t really matter how many more you have, you are just wasting your money. See it as being like a ram in a field full of pregnant ewes: he can mount them all again 100 times, but to no effect – they are already in lamb.

    If you ever get the chance to watch the film ‘War Games’, you will understand the mindset of the time. It is about a teenage rebel who hacked into NORADs central computer system and discovered a game called ‘Global Thermonuclear War’. It was developed by computer whizzkids to try and ‘war game’ all the possible scenarios of nuclear conflict. When the computer acquires ‘independence of thought and action’ all bets become off…..

    We of course in the west were told it was a war between ‘freedom’ and ‘communism’. I’m not sure the Central Americans gained ‘freedom’ when the United Fruit Company got the CIA to install friendly satrapies across the region, but there we are. I don’t get the impression that Stalin was a very nice piece of work either, but I wasn’t living there at the time so tend not to comment in too much detail about such matters. I’ve heard more than one ordinary working-class Englishman opine that ‘old Adolf was a minor irritant compared to Joe Stalin when it came to bumping people off en masse.’ I tend to see people gassed in concentration camps as slightly more pre-planned than mass starvation though. Ultimately it happened under Stalin’s watch, but I’m not sure he bumped off all the millions who died under his reign. You could say the same about Chairman Mao, I guess…..d

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