A report from Sharkaushchyna, the center of the poorest region of Belarus.
For several years, Sharkaushchyna has had the status of a region with the lowest salaries. Now the average salary there is just over 500 rubles. Radio Svaboda journalists have visited Sharkaushchyna and found out that the salaries there are even lower.
Sharkaushchyna was founded in the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in 1793 it became part of Russia, in the first half of the twentieth century – a part of the BPR, BSSR, Poland and again the BSSR. Among its owners were Leu Sapeha (the father of the Third Statute of the GDL, who helped to occupy Moscow with False Dmitry’s shady undertaking), as well as Mikalai Tadevush Lapatsinski, the senator of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
1. Since 1999, the city has lost 17 percent of the population. Soon less than 6 thousand people will live here. The average salary in the district, according to the Belstat, has grown by 12 percent over the year, but hardly exceeded 500 rubles – and it is the lowest in the country.
2. We came to Sharkaushchyna from the Minsk direction. To the left of the P3 highway, at the entrance to the village, there is an agricultural holding named after Markau – a large territory with agricultural machinery, grain dryers, cowsheds. We fell into talk with watchman Viktar. He is from Drybin, but he has lived here for 25 years. Baks was suspiciously looking at the unknown guests. Viktar bought that dog for $ 180 to help him watch over. A small step to the side – and he barked loudly.
– As soon as the Union collapsed – problems with diesel fuel appeared. We sell milk to the Hlubokski dairy unit for 40 kopecks. If earlier, for a liter of sold milk we could buy three liters of diesel fuel, now it is necessary to sell four liters of milk per liter of diesel fuel. The machinery is left without fuel. It's old, has not been modernized. It was better even in the early 1990s,"– Viktar says.
He adds that earlier the salaries used to be 1,000 rubles. Now salaries are 200-300, and he personally gets 80. He says that there is no alternative: he used to be a tractor driver, but he hurt his back and is forced to work as a watchman.
3. To the right of the site entrance, there is a 2-storey building of the dispatch office. But it is almost empty: only the overman’s room is occupied. Across the road, in another 2-storey building, accountants and economists used to work, but they have "gone to the kennel." For about four years, a shopping center is housed in here.
– There are few enterprises left in the village – most of them have been ruined. There was a brick factory at the opposite side of the village – now men of business work there. The dairy plant used to be here – today there are ruins instead. The jobs are few, and if you find something, do not expect a good payment. You can be paid with food instead of money," – Viktar adds.
4. The former dairy plant is located in 300 meters, in September 17 street. There are only private buildings in this part of the city. We meet Alena at one of the plots. She’s come from Dokshytsy, got married and been living here most of her life. Now she is retired, gets 320 rubles, worked in the State Insurance for about 30 years. She got her house there.
5. – I live between the former dairy plant and the former housing and utilities office, where a merchant used to sell cheap bread from Russia. Now everything is closed. Young people have nowhere to work. The opposite neighbor could not find a job for a long time – she was forced to take the barn to pieces for firewood. Local people leave to work in Minsk and Russia, – the interlocutor says.
6. She shows us the house where the former dairy unit employee works. Volha is from Slutsk. She has worked here for 35 years. Now she’s retired, gets "4 million 400 – do not understand how to transfer money to the new one."
7. – The diary unit used to produce everything: milk, kefir, butter, sour cream, cheeses, cottage cheese, ice cream. It was not work, but hell. We worked like the dickens, we all became cripples: the legs stopped working. But later the automatic equipment appeared and it became easier. In the 1990s, the production was closed, the plant only collected milk for delivering it to Hlubokaye. Last year, it was stopped as well, as it was unprofitable, – Volha says.
8. Sharkaushchyna made a negative impression on her at first. Volha says that the city was very dirty – for two days she was crying because of that and regretting that she had left beautiful Slutsk. After a while she was even about to return, but she met her future husband at the plant, and so she stayed here. He says that he did not see anything admirable in life. When her husband fell ill – "it all went out the window."
9. – Earlier people got kopecks and lived better than now. We lived much better. Trouble is everywhere now. They pay in half: with money and food. And do they give anything decent? Everything is written-off, stale. I could not think that it would happen. Previously, all the people worked, got their salaries and were satisfied. Now there is no work. Young people are registered with the employment office. The enterprises have been closed. At that, opposite my house, in the former school, the KGB is sitting, it occupies seven offices there.
10.At parting, Volha shows us a state enterprise, which is located between her house and the former dairy plant. She says that wooden windows, doors are produced there. There are few orders, so workers get two or three "old" million.
11. September 17 street leads us to the village center and ends near the square with an abandoned cinema.
12. From here, along Mayakovsky street, we get to the main square across the Disna River. The central building is a 4-storey regional executive committee. Previously, local officials worked in a 2-storey Soviet building at the same square. Today there is nothing there. Another abandoned building here is the former department store. Probably, it is the most beautiful building in Sharkaushchyna: with moulding and columns.
13. The central part of the village surprises only by the lack of a monument to Lenin. There are few new and reconditioned buildings.
– We have not been lucky enough with "Dazhynki" – the towns are "licked clean" for it, – Alina jokes. She studies in Minsk to become an ecologist, but comes to her native city "six times a year". – At first sight, you may feel that Sharkaushchyna has been wasted. And rightly so, if you do not start your business, then you will live in poverty. Young people leave this place, because after school there is nowhere to continue their studies. And they do not return, after graduating from higher or special educational institutions, because there is nowhere to work. If a young man works here, most likely, this person is temporarily here and forcibly assigned.
All her classmates, except for one girl who stayed to help her parents, left after leaving school as well. Most of them – to Minsk, two of them – to Vitsebsk.