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Saturday, August 27, 2016

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.


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.


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


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


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."


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


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


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.


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


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


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