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Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

Anna OnishchenkoLife
Shops in the USSR

Many Ukrainians recall the USSR with warmth and nostalgia, which is not surprising, as it was the time of their youth and prosperity. However, photographs and objective facts show that Soviet life was far from easy and carefree.

The photos of the real everyday life of the Soviet Union's inhabitants, published by Belarusian blogger Maksim Mirovich, are circulating online. Empty shelves, class inequality, long lines. It's all stunning and makes you remember what communism leads to.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

What was on the Soviet shelves?

Soviet stores, unlike modern ones, were very spacious. Nowadays, people can choose products depending on their composition, packaging, price, etc., but in the USSR there was no variety at all. That's why people walked between lonely shelves filled with the same type of products, such as sprats in tomato or "tourist's breakfast" - cow tail trimmings mixed with pearl barley porridge.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

Despite the fact that the USSR had several outlets to the sea, there was no fresh fish on the shelves, oddly enough. People could only be offered canned fish.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR
Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

The famous Soviet ham at 3 rubles and 70 kopecks per kilogram was probably not so bad, but not everyone could afford it. It was not cheap at all, given the average monthly salary of 120 rubles.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

In the dairy departments, in addition to milk itself, you could find kefir, liquid sour cream, and sour cottage cheese in paper packaging that was coming apart before your eyes. The small jars probably contained mayonnaise.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

Stench

In addition to the poor assortment, there was always a stench in the stores. "The degree and type could vary from store to store, but something always stank," said Maksym Mirovych.

According to him, low-quality Soviet refrigerators often broke down. Because of this, the food started to spoil and stink, but no one was in a hurry to clean it up.

The bread department stank of sour bread, and the dairy department stank of sour cheese. At any time of the year, the vegetable departments smelled of rotten vegetables that were spoiling before they even got to the store due to the lack of proper food storage technologies.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

In the USSR, there was no market competition, so manufacturers had no incentive to produce a variety of quality goods or to keep stores clean and tidy.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

It was forbidden to choose more or less normal vegetables on your own. The seller poured everything into the bags, and the buyers had no alternative to refuse to buy rotten vegetables.

Shortages and queues

In the provinces, the situation was even worse. Often, store shelves could be completely empty. Sometimes there were only vinegary green pickled tomatoes.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR
Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

Closer to 1990, this situation spread to the entire USSR. There was literally nothing in most stores.

Where they did sell some food, people had to push in lines and show their passports and some papers to buy a piece of cartilage with bones called "meat."

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR
Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

After work, women of all ages stood in different lines for 2-3 hours to bring something home and start preparing lunch for tomorrow.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

Often, fans of the USSR respond to such photographic evidence by claiming that the photos do not show the USSR, but the "poverty of the nineties." It is true that some of the photos were taken at the end of the Soviet Union's existence, but it is impossible to say that the system that led to such a decline was perfect and collapsed one day by accident.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

The "poverty of the nineties" is a direct consequence of the planned economy and communism. It was in the nineties, when private initiative and competition began to develop, that stores finally began to gradually fill up with goods.

Eat, don't choke: what store shelves really looked like in the last years of the USSR

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