Pain Sets In For Russians
As Medicines And
Essentials Disappear
By Philippa Fletcher
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two phrases rang out over the quiet coughing and shuffling of feet in Moscow's Chemist Number One on Wednesday -- ``There isn't any'' and ``It's run out.'' Bewildered people clutching prescriptions moved from queue to queue in the large faded halls of the pharmacy, based in an old palace in the city centre. Shortages and queues had, until recently, been consigned to the past, like the bust of Lenin still on the grand stairway. ``It was always a great chemist, one of the best. There used to be a wide choice. Now, you can see for yourself,'' said Lida Lebedeva, 60 a former teacher now on a pension. Lebedeva was trying to find medicine for her husband, to help regulate blood flow to his head after a stroke. ``I waited a whole hour and they told me it was finished. It's pretty bad for him without it,'' she said. The economic crisis which hit last month has cleared many of Russia's shop shelves. But while a shortage of food might mean a less varied diet, a lack of medicine can be much more painful. Ivan Buloshev, a pensioner who had just come out of hospital, said he would just have to keep on searching for the headache pills he had been prescribed. ``I'll pray to God for help,'' he said. Russia, he said, had been through crises before. ``But things were just getting stabilised. People are getting tired of this.'' The last time shop emptied, in 1991, the chemist on Moscow's main Tverskaya street had little on the shelves but bottles of leeches. On Wednesday its window were filled with imported cosmetics. But it was closed ``for technical reasons.'' In the Fortuna chemist on Moscow's upscale Bolshaya Nikitskaya street, rolls of cotton wool wrapped in brown paper were selling fast in another grim throwback to Communist times. ``It's because sanitary towels are too expensive so people are buying this instead,'' said an assistant. ``Just like in the old days.'' Sanitary towels, never part of the five-year plans drawn up by squeamish Communist authorities, have quadrupled in price since the rouble began sliding on August 17. Other imported products have disappeared altogether. ``I was looking for incontinence pads for my mother who's in hospital. They told me to forget it,'' said one man, hurrying away from Chemist Number One. Its harassed director, Tamara Pogromova, did not know when things would change for the better. ``Some things have run out completely, both imported and domstic. We're not getting new supplies,'' she said. In the Fortuna pharmacy the mood was slightly better. ``We had a break in supplies, but now they're coming back in, though not everything,'' said an assistant. It seemed to be one of the very few. Many of the little private kiosks selling medicines which have sprung up to fill gaps in the market have been cleared of almost all their stock. Pharmacists said people have been panic-buying for fear prices, which have already rocketed, would continue to rise. But not everyone could afford to. Viktor Luferenko, a military officer, needed treatment for the arthritis in his wife's knees without which she cannot walk. The doctor had given him the name of a chemist where he could find it but warned him the price had doubled. ``Stock up? I haven't been paid since June,'' Luferenko said.