As Moscow Continues To Gentrify, Its Residents Are Getting Left Behind

Dec 5, 2018
Originally published on December 5, 2018 7:19 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Long lines and empty store shelves are among the enduring images of life in the Soviet Union. Thirty years later, food shortages are a distant memory. Moscow is full of gleaming supermarkets. Although, as NPR's Lucian Kim reports, many Muscovites still buy their food and their clothes at the city's sprawling open-air markets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Tunes from southern Russia blare from a stand at the Preobrazhensky market, a sprawling outdoor emporium in a Moscow suburb. It's considered a remnant of the past, higgledy-piggledy stands selling everything from sides of beef and fresh fruit to pantyhose and power tools.

VERA MESHCHERYAKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Vera Meshcheryakova grows her own vegetables in the Tambov region south of Moscow. She's been selling her produce here for close to 30 years.

MESHCHERYAKOVA: (Through interpreter) There are fewer people than before. Probably they don't have any money. A lot of new supermarkets have opened, so things aren't so good for us anymore.

KIM: Meshcheryakova is 70 years old.

MESHCHERYAKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says she can't make ends meet on her monthly pension of about $100. So she and her husband make the nine-hour drive to Moscow, then nine hours back home again every week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: A recording blares out an ad for a shop selling fresh and frozen fish for surprisingly low prices. Shopper Andrei Vospadov isn't buying it.

ANDREI VOSPADOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He says that before Russia imposed an embargo on European foods as retaliation for Western sanctions, the salmon was of higher quality and much cheaper. Vospadov, a doctor, says now he only buys fruits and vegetables at the market.

VOSPADOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He says prices are going up constantly. Wages are stagnating. And he's spending more than half of his income on food.

Not all Muscovites are feeling the pinch of Russia's sluggish economy, though. Drive half an hour through heavy traffic, and you're in the refurbished city center, where Moscow's newest indoor market welcomes visitors with cool beats.

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KIM: I've entered the Tsentralny Rynok, or Central Market, in downtown Moscow. I've walked a few steps. I've already passed a flatbread bakery, a fresh salad bar. And down some cast-iron steps, there's a food court featuring cuisines from the whole world.

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KIM: That's some Thai rolled ice cream getting chopped up. The mango shakes are in the basement, and the oyster bar is upstairs. Shopper Olga Yeremeyeva says Muscovites love everything that's new.

OLGA YEREMEYEVA: (Through interpreter) Consumer habits are changing, and this kind of format is in demand now. People are tired of supermarkets and mega-markets. They'd prefer to meet their friends, have a bite and go shopping together.

KIM: Timofei Romashov is manning the Siberian food stand.

TIMOFEI ROMASHOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Kamchatka crab, white salmon, northern shrimp and smelt" - that's just some of the Russian seafood he's selling. It's a world apart from the old outdoor market just five miles away.

MESHCHERYAKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Vera Meshcheryakova hands me bags filled with pickled cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes.

MESHCHERYAKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Enjoy and come back again," she says. Meshcheryakova and her husband will be sleeping in their car tonight. They'll be here until all the vegetables are sold. Then they'll drive the nine hours home to get some more. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.