In preparation for her day’s work ahead in an informal street market in Kyiv’s Lukyanivka neighborhood, 58-year-old Halyna reaches down and opens two cat carriers.

"These are my cats – Tricia, a three-suited marble cat, and Rudolf, a golden red cat; they are working with me," she says.

Halyna – with the assistance of Tricia and Rudolf – sells embroidered goods that she makes herself and is just one of the traders that make up the ad-hoc market. Other wares laid out on rugs on the pavement include pickled vegetables, nuts and flowers grown outside Kyiv and then brought into the capital to sell, or jewellery and trinkets no longer needed when weighed up against the need for a little extra cash.

Halyna and Rudolf. PHOTO: Zoya Shu

“No one will notice us at the market, but many people pass by here,” 82-year-old Liudmyla tells Kyiv Post. “I've been here all day and haven't sold much and soon I need to catch the train home.”

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Liudmyla lives in Pereyaslav, a town on the other side of the Dnipro 100km away from Kyiv. She says she has a good pension of more than 4,000 hryvnia ($108), but she comes to Kyiv to trade once or twice a week for some extra money.

“I have to get up early, pick up veggies and cook,” she says. “I plant many vegetables – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs. I have enough from the garden and then sell what is left over.”

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Halyna also travels 100km to get to Kyiv, though as well as selling her rugs for money to help herself, she also tries to get as much money as she can to help stray dogs and cats. 

“We actually found Rudolf in the street and cured him,” she says. “I need to buy food for the homeless cats and to feed them. And, of course, it is much harder now.

“Since the peaceful times ended, it has been harder for all the Ukrainian people. I'm talking to people less, I'm working less.

“Before the war, I had five jobs, now, I don't have any.”

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Pickles and flowers are mainstays of many of the ad-hoc stalls. PHOTO: Zoya Shu.

Russia’s full-scale invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy with the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) declining by nearly 30 percent in 2022.

According to the World Bank, this has pushed the number of Ukrainians living in poverty from 5.5 percent to 24.2 percent – 7.1m more people that the year previously and “undoing 15 years of progress.”

Inflation has also skyrocketed by up to 26.6 percent over the last year meaning not only is there less money in people’s pockets but basic necessities such as food is now much more expensive.

For older Ukrainians trying to get by on a pension, life is particularly tough.

"I used to repair cars, jeeps, and anything with a petrol engine," says one-legged 60-year-old Oleksandr, a former applied mechanics teacher at the Kyiv Polytechnical Institute whose articles on robotics were published in Japan and Europe in the early 2000s.

"Now I can't do it. I am selling my things. For food, for a living. I get a pension of Hr 2,800 ($76), and they say electricity and water will become more expensive soon.

“With the outbreak of war, it has become worse. I come out here every day when it's not raining.”

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"You have to do what you have to do,” says 76-year-old Svitlana Petrenko. She stands near Kyiv’s Politekhnichnyi Instytut metro station next to a display of lily of the valley, narcissi, lilacs, walnuts, spinach, sorrel that she grows in the village of Khotyanivka before making the 40km trip to the capital to sell them.

“I have to sell this to survive – my pension is only Hr 3,100 ($84) a month; it is not enough.” 

She sells narcissi for Hr 5-6 ($0.16) per piece, lilacs for Hr 50 ($1.35) per bunch, and walnuts for Hr 50 per kilo.

Svitlana says she quarrels often with her children who don't want her to do it, saying she will “earn a hryvnia and lose a thousand” or get sick from standing outside all day and won't have enough money for medicine.

“Foreigners have good pensions,” she says. “They go on cruises everywhere, and this is our cruise", she adds with a wry laugh.

“It is my way to survive. I visit my village twice a week but I'm not in good enough health to do it more often. If I hear a siren, I stay at home. Sirens scare me, I hope all those Russists (sic) are going to die soon.” 

 

Oleksandr and his small collection of wares. PHOTO: Zoya Shu

Despite the hardships of the economic situation, many of those Kyiv Post spoke to are trying their best to help those around them as well as themselves.

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“I help my friends who are having a hard time,” says Liudmyla. “One is very ill – her legs hurt, and she has a vegetable garden. So I help her as much as I can. I want to help the army but don't know how to transfer money. 

"Last spring, I sent money to the military a couple of times – I found information on the internet,” says Oleksandr. “And there was a woman in the Kharkiv hospital, and I sent her what I could a couple of times. I've topped up a mobile phone for someone in the military to get internet access.

“Otherwise, I need help. Especially with the current prices – they have doubled since last year, and pensions have not been raised much."

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