You Want to Make a Buck? Come to Abkhazia!

Today I have a piece from Komsomolskaya Pravda  entitled “You want to make a lot of money?  Come to Abkhazia!”

Special Correspondent Nikolai Varsegov travelled to Abkhazia to work in the fields as a fruit-picker.   Here is his report:

Abkhazia is a small country with a nice beachfront on the Black Sea.


Today I earned 40 rubles

picking mandarines in Abkhazia.  In (the town of) Agudzere, the agro-complex called “Sofia”.  And “KP” photo-correspondent Viktor Huseinov captured this fact on film.  I didn’t want him to photograph me, because I am a very modest person, and I try to avoid the paparazzi.  But you just can’t get away from them!

Later, in my interview with Huseinov, I admitted to him that I actually like the work.  A bucket of mandarines, it only took me 10 minutes to collect, and they paid me 40 rubles!  I figure that in a month I could make about 70K.

But my more experienced colleagues shot me down.  Turns out that half the fruit in my bucket is no good.  When you pick an orange, you have to be gentle, and not rip the skin (at the place where it was connected to the branch).  Mine were all ripped.  They would rot within a week.  It’s best to use shears, but that takes more time.  Therefore, an average fruit-picker can only make around 30K per month.


Photo by Viktor Huseinov.

For that reason, I was even ashamed to collect my fee of 40 rubles, and when the brigade-leader offered to pay me in oranges, I agreed readily.

So, how many did you take?

A whole backpack full!  And Huseinov also got himself a bag full.

Then Brigade-Leader Aslan Ivanba invited us to go with him and tour the facility.  It’s huge.

“I’ve worked here for 30 years,” Ivanba told us.  “I know every single bush, even though there are over a hundred thousands of them.  Some of the trees here are 50 or 60 years old, but they still bear fruit abundantly.  In Soviet times, when they used fertilizer, some trees could give 600-800 kilos of product.  Nowadays we don’t use much fertilizer, because it’s so expensive, therefore we only get around 30-40 kilos of product per bush.”

We got in the Niva and drove up into the mountains, around 200 meters.  You could feel it getting colder, but there were still lots of mandarines.

“A mandarine tree can endure the cold up to 8 degrees minus,” Aslan explains. [yalensis:  that would be around 18 degrees Fahrenheit].  “They can’t grow up where it’s really high.”

Abkhazia is world-famous for its citrus fruits and wines.

On the other side of the bushes I suddenly heard people speaking in Luhansk dialect.  Turns out there were about a dozen people (both men and women) from Luhansk.  They came here to pick fruit for the harvest.  Only one of them lives in the LPR (Luhansk Peoples Republic), the others are from areas under Ukrainian jurisdiction.

“How are things going out there?” I asked the Ukrainians.  They tell me that almost everybody they know there dreams of separating from Ukraine.  The ones who still live in Ukraine don’t want to be photographed.  They’re currently staying in the dormitory of the agro-firm.  They are hoping to earn 30-40K each.  Many of them already have experience, from having picked fruit last year too.

Outside the factory, a truck is loading up.  The Abkhazian driver is getting ready to transport the fruit to Ivanovo.  I ask him about the issues of border posts and customs, any extortions, etc.  The driver responds that he doesn’t have any issues with extortions or having to pay bribes to the highway patrol.  He might be fibbing, though.

“If I happen to like a particular highway patrolman, I’ll voluntarily give him some wine and fruits!   It’s nice for him and nice for me.  But if I don’t like him, I won’t give him anything.  In Russia we only have one problem:  We, Abkhazian truck drivers, don’t have the right to transport Russian goods back, say, out of Ivanovo to Sochi.  So we either drive back empty, or we have to sit there for a long time, waiting for some goods to take back to Abkhazia.  Sometimes you sit there and wait over a week – and you’re losing 1500 rubles a day in travel expenses!”

Abkhazian truck drivers make pretty good money.

“How are the salaries though, in general?” I ask him.

“We earn good pay,” the truck driver confesses, “but keep that a secret.”

I wish him a good trip.  But Huseinov and I will stay here for a while, learning more about the mandarine business, and other things.

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