A sharp depreciation of the Belarusian ruble has resulted in long lines at Minsk currency-exchange booths and stores across the Belarusian capital.
Fearing further devaluation, people are clamoring to purchase scarce U.S. dollars and unloading available rubles on all kinds of merchandise, lest prices rise precipitously.
"I stood in line for two hours and there are just no dollars or euros to be bought," said one woman at an exchange outlet in the city center.
Another man said he finally managed to purchase $600, but only after being turned away at three other exchange booths. "I got lucky. I think the national currency is going to continue to fall."
Such is the prevailing mood among Minsk citizens, though the National Bank says the present hard-currency deficits are a temporary, technical problem, which will soon be resolved. The authorities say no further devaluation of the currency is planned.
Still, many exchange outlets visited on January 11 by RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondents had posted notices saying: "No hard currency for sale."
"Yes, we have no bananas"
Meanwhile, merchandise in local stores -- everything from fur coats to vacuum cleaners to refrigerators -- seems to be flying off the shelves as consumers race to spend their rubles before another unforeseen drop in the national currency or sudden price rise. Long lines were seen on January 11at cashier counters, display windows, and fitting rooms in Minsk's central department store.
"People are buying literally anything and everything," a manager at one Minsk shop said. "We are breaking all sales quotas."
"Our government should do things a bit differently," said one customer, referring to the National Bank's move on January 2 to allow the ruble to lose 20 percent of its value against the dollar. "Shock therapy is not for us."
-- Bohdan Andrusyshyn