10/17/2014 11:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Was It Like to Be in the Soviet Union Just After It Collapsed?

What was it like to be in the Soviet Union just after it collapsed?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Sasha Latypova, Co-Founder, Serial Entrepreneur with concentration in Clinical Technologies

I was 18-20 at the time. It was a very difficult time, and I would not characterize it as a feeling of freedom. Freedom was the last thing everyone was thinking about, but the inflation, food, and shortage of everything else were foremost on everyone's mind.

At some point (although I do not remember if it was before or right after the Soviet Union collapse) the inflation reached 1000% (!!!).

I just graduated high school and went on to college in Kiev (capital city of Ukrainian Republic, later independent Ukraine). Previously all students in the Soviet higher education system received state stipend as long as they maintained certain level of grades. They also received free on-campus housing for those out of town. While very little money, that was previously sufficient to sustain modest living. The inflation turned this state support into zero money almost overnight. By second semester of my college, no one bothered to collect this money from the school.

We had no textbooks or reliable heating in the buildings. Many professors were forced to look for odd jobs on the side just to feed their families. Most still did not quit their jobs at the university.

Everyone was looking for any source of income that came in foreign currency since local currency became nearly worthless.

I found several gigs as a translator from English (language skills were thankfully in demand!) which paid in dollars and I did okay, although I had to work nearly full time and be a full-time student. I knew of many great doctors, lawyers, university professors and other great professionals who were reduced to working as cab drivers, kiosk operators, etc. A friend of mine, an OBGYN and a surgeon was working as a cleaner for a British expat in Kiev. My friend also continued working at the state hospital where she was not paid at all. I asked her why she didn't quit and just continued with the cleaning job which paid relatively well, and she replied that she would not abandon her patients.

Miners and plant workers were routinely not paid for 6-9-12 months at a time.

Unemployment (official!) reached 50% before and shortly after the Soviet Union collapse. In my family of 5 working-age adults, I was the only one with a job. This was typical.

Life expectancy collapsed to somewhere around 52 for men and 63 for women - levels observed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shortly after Ukraine became independent, the Soviet Union pulled the currency (ruble) out of circulation in Ukraine. We had literally no money anymore. It took approx 2 years for a new Ukrainian currency (hryvna) to be designed and printed (in Canada I believe) and put into circulation. In the meantime we received worthless pieces of paper at work which was supposed to be exchanged for products in stores, which of course were not in stores anymore either.

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