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Sunday, December 21, 2014


In Belarus, Mobile Grocer Provides Crucial Lifeline

Published 11 February 2013


RFE/RL's Belarus Service made midwinter visits to a handful of villages outside Minsk that have no grocery stores. Residents around Vialeyka, about 100 kilometers northwest of the capital, instead get their groceries from an "autalauka," a sort of mobile shop that was more widespread throughout the Soviet Union decades ago.

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Customers like to say you can get "all the necessities" at such a mobile shop, which in this case stops once a week in around 15 to 16 villages.

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This one's got "bricks" of bread, matches, milk, butter, and yogurt in addition to tobacco, vodka, and inexpensive wine.

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Shoppers can also buy any of several varieties of sausage, herring, frozen smelt, caramels, and chocolate.

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There are just two full-time winter residents in the village of Leskov: Martha Kolyada and her son, Viktor. It's around 8 kilometers to the nearest store, so they eagerly await Thursday visits from the "autalauka."

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Martha says she spends about 300,000 rubles ($40) a week for supplies from the mobile shop.

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"We feel a little detached from civilization," says Viktor, who works in the nearby forest tapping trees to produce resin.

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Access to their village is made more difficult by the Vzlyanka River that flows by it, though recent repairs to a footbridge have made shopping easier.

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Still, the 800-meter trip through deep snow to reach Martha and Viktor's home takes the "autalauka" about 15 minutes each way.

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Martha buys her son a birthday gift: a bottle of vodka.

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The mobile shop's driver says he believes in the calculator, but still prefers to double-check the totals on his abacus.