These revealing photos show store shelves in a Russian provincial town groaning under piles of fresh food.
While British supermarkets are rationing eggs and a range of fruit and vegetables amid shortages largely caused by the war in Ukraine, such hardships have not affected Vladimir Putin’s citizens.
The photos were taken in a dining room, two superstores and a corner shop in Perm, a city with a population the size of Birmingham in the Ural Mountains, a 24-hour drive from Moscow. The footage suggests that the West’s much-touted sanctions against Russia, imposed to punish President Putin for his invasion, have no deep bite.
Plus, the scenes are a reversal from 40 years ago, when many of us watched pitiful TV images of Russians under the communist regime queuing for staples like bread and eggs.
Now it is Britain’s turn to suffer. Supermarkets here are rationing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce, while UK growers struggle with higher energy costs that mean they don’t use greenhouses to grow them in winter. Soft fruit, including raspberries, is also difficult to find in stores.
PICTURED: Filton Asda in Bristol. While British supermarkets are rationing eggs and a range of fruit and vegetables amid shortages largely caused by the war in Ukraine, no such hardship has affected Vladimir Putin’s citizens
PICTURED: Food market in the city of Perm, Russia. The footage suggests that the West’s much-touted sanctions against Russia, imposed to punish President Putin for his invasion, have no deep bite
Tony Montalbano, managing director of Green Acre Salads in Roydon, Essex, typically produces a million pounds of baby cucumbers a year, but his greenhouses were empty last month.
He put off growing his crops to avoid fuel bills rising to £500,000 a month in the winter. He expects his production to be reduced by up to half this year.
“It’s sad and frustrating, but I can’t afford to grow,” he said. ‘I have to make a profit. If I don’t, I don’t feel like continuing. Many growers close their doors and close sales.’
Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers Association, added: ‘We have empty greenhouses across the country. People who grow two or three harvests of cucumbers a year can reduce that to one, because they don’t want to use more expensive energy.’
Eggs are also rationed because farmers cannot afford the cost of keeping laying hens warm in energy-guzzling barns.
As a result, many staples here are much more expensive than in Russia, as our chart shows.
Inhabitants of Perm and elsewhere in Russia have cheap food in abundance. Cheap energy in the gas-rich country means vegetables can be grown in greenhouses throughout the bitter winter. Russia is also able to import large quantities of fruit from sympathetic countries, such as Iran, that enjoy warmer climates.
Nor is there concern about heating homes, while filling cars with plentiful cheap petrol or diesel is a breeze.
PICTURED: Sue Reid. A year after Putin’s full-scale invasion, it seems most ordinary Russians have few day-to-day hardships — as long as they can avoid being drafted into the Russian army and suffering massive casualties in Ukraine
Other factors come into play: Income tax in Russia is just 13 per cent for those earning less than £163,000 – compared to 40 or 45 per cent for higher British earners. Local tax, or council tax, is also a fraction of what people in the UK pay.
A random selection of people in Permian contacted by the Mail provided us with their weekly receipts showing prices and product availability, as well as their monthly utility bills. In addition, they took a lot of pictures.
They also insist that Russian public hospitals “continue to be excellent” while the country’s residents’ enrollment in the country’s health care system is fully paid for by their employers – so free at the time of use.
A year after Putin’s full-scale invasion, it seems that most ordinary Russians have few day-to-day hardships — as long as they can avoid being drafted into the Russian army and suffering massive casualties in Ukraine.
We took careful precautions to protect the identities of our informants and spoke to Perm residents through social media channels not controlled by the Kremlin.
As UK-born John, 67, and his Russian wife, Helena, 51, told the Mail from their two-bedroom apartment in the city: ‘Crisis, what crisis? We live our lives normally despite the situation in Ukraine. We look at what is happening in Britain while the food shelves are empty. We are in Russia, working here, and not suffering from the sanctions of the West.’
It is pathetic. Many growers sell out
The truth is that while oligarchs have been driven out of Britain, Russo-British flights and money transfers have been banned, along with oil imports, the population there doesn’t feel the pinch. Food production is booming thanks to Russia’s abundant domestic energy supply and ability to buy from supporting countries.
John and Helena insist that the Ukraine conflict is of little interest to them. “The average Russian cares about a warm house, food on the table, a glass of vodka and personal safety on the street.
‘We all have. Nothing has changed because of the war.’
John is a researcher and Helena is a former university lecturer. They spoke to us when President Putin bragged in his annual speech to the nation last month that inflation has fallen to four per cent, compared to 10.1 per cent in the UK.
The bills for what John and Helena call ‘a very large luxury flat’ – including block maintenance, light, heating, water supply and rubbish collection – are just £130 a month. The couple’s family also owns a dacha, or cottage, on the outskirts of Perm.
Of course Russian wages are a fraction of what they are in Britain. The average income per person is less than £14,000, compared to £33,000 in the UK, according to 2022 figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Britain remains the fifth largest economy in the world, while Russia, even with more than double the population, languishes at number 11 – behind Italy, South Korea and Canada. However, the sanctions are having some effect on Russia’s national economy: it contracted by as much as 3.9 percent last year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and further declines are expected.
Crisis? Which crises? We live a normal life
And, of course, many major Western companies have cut ties with Moscow in protest of the war. In Perm, most European clothing stores and franchises have closed, making way for Russian ones – with ‘everything we need’, say the residents we spoke to.
But the cost of living in Russia is much lower than in the UK and given the country’s abundant natural resources it seems unlikely that this will change.
How the two relate
Current Russian retail prices based on 40 cities: website 3Pulse.com and receipts from residents of Perm.
- Tomatoes, 1 kg, 144 Russian Rubles — £1.60
- Loose potatoes, 1 kg, 31 rubles — 34 p
- Freshly chilled broiler chicken, 1 kg, 175.99 rubles – £1.94 p
- Six-pack of eggs, 69.99 rubles – 77p
- Iceberg lettuce, 1 kg, 89.99 rubles – 99 p
- Liter of milk, 59.77 rubles — 66 pence *February 2023 figures
UK comparisons of online supermarket sites this week.
- Tomatoes, 1kg, £1.75 (Sainsbury’s)
- Loose potatoes, 1kg, 70p (Tesco)
- Fresh Chilled Broiler Chicken, 1kg, £2.87p (Sainsbury’s)
- Six pack eggs, £1.40p (Sainsbury’s)
- Iceberg lettuce (washed) 1kg, 99p (Tesco)
- Two pints of whole milk, £1.30 (Tesco)
In the West, on the other hand, costs and inflation have skyrocketed as the Kremlin “weapons energy” and chokes on supplies in retaliation for our sanctions. Putin has also refused to sell us agricultural fertilizers.
As the world’s largest exporter of this essential agricultural product, the price has skyrocketed. In short, he has tried to ruin British agriculture, in many cases making it unaffordable to grow vegetables, fruit and salad products in the cold months.
The left-wing British media has been quick to blame Brexit for the shortages on our shelves.
But agricultural experts insist it’s a combination of factors, including the fact that the weather in Spain and Morocco has caused poor harvests and reduced fruit and vegetable imports. In Perm, the situation could not be different. Tomatoes were plentiful. Raspberries were also abundant last week.
All of this, of course, makes one wonder who is winning the economic war. From Perm, John told us, “I’ve seen with my own eyes that sanctions don’t hurt Russia. People on the street hardly notice it. The shops are full of everything they want or need.
“Revenues from gas and oil exports have soared to countries that have not imposed sanctions.”
He added: “The bottom line is that there is more money flowing into the country than flowing out. Imports from Europe are down, but Russian production is, ironically, increasing as the country becomes more self-sufficient.
“There are never shortages here. As a vegetarian, I miss Linda McCartney sausages or a strong cheddar cheese.
“But there are plenty of alternatives, made in Russia, on our shelves.
McDonald’s has now been replaced by a Russian owned “Tasty, Full Stop”, and all younger Russians prefer their stuff.
‘We have Heinz Baked Beans and still get imports, such as Corona Beer, from the local supermarket. There are also plenty of wines from Spain, Portugal and Italy.
“We live the good life here.”