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GOODS STILL MEAGER AND SHODDY - BUT MUCH MORE COSTLY, RUSSIANS FIND

SHARE GOODS STILL MEAGER AND SHODDY - BUT MUCH MORE COSTLY, RUSSIANS FIND

Thursday was the first day of uncontrolled prices in Russia, and Russians were dismayed to find the same meager assortment of the same shoddy goods as before the much-heralded reform - only several times more expensive.

"It's disgraceful," said Tamara Gorshkova, an old-age pensioner, as she contemplated a display case full of fatty Russian sausage that now costs $1.40 - half her monthly pension.As for other food staples, price reform had clearly not improved supplies. "It's already the second day of the new year," she said, "and there's no milk for any price."

Her thoughts were echoed by other shoppers who, drifting from store to store foraging for basic goods, could only wonder how they were going to get by. Average incomes are about 450 rubles (about $5) a month, though these are likely to rise in coming months.

The new price of chicken was 48 rubles (53 cents) a kilogram, butter costs 144 rubles ($1.60) a kilogram and a loaf of white bread costs 2.75 rubles (about 3 cents).

The usually ubiquitous lines were sparse as people filtered into shops, looked at the prices and left again without buying much of anything. Many cashiers and store clerks stood idle.

In one grocery store on historic Arbat Street, a steady stream of people clutching cloth shopping bags solemnly filed past a display case full of sausage, creating a scene reminiscent of a funeral. Some stopped to read the prices aloud, intoning them like curses.

"One hundred and eight rubles," said one woman. "Horrible. A nightmare."

Pensioners and others on fixed government incomes who will be hit hardest by the price hikes expressed the most outrage and distress.

"It's a disgrace. It's shameful. We're also people, we also need to eat. I've worked 38 years, and this is what I get. Stalin's time was the only period when there was real order," said Zineda Ivanovna.

"Look at Gorbachev. They gave him a car, and bodyguards, and thousands of rubles, and they left us simple people hungry," said one woman who would not give her name. "He should leave the country."One man put his attitude toward the reform more succinctly: "Gor-bachev and Yeltsin are scum."

But not all Muscovites reacted negatively to the new prices. Some expressed a cautious faith in Russian President Boris Yeltsin's promise that economic pain is a necessary part of the recovery process, and that the hardship will only be temporary.

"You shouldn't blame the new government for this - you should thank the old one," said Nina, who wouldn't give her last name. "Prices are expensive, but they can change. We'll wait until they're lower. We'll survive."

"Yeltsin promised prices would stabilize, and we believe him for now," said Valentina Sorokina, who works in a private company. "After all, we voted for him."

For the most part there were few noticeable changes in the poor supply of goods in the stores, which were largely stripped bare in a mad shopping spree to stock up on everything available right before the New Year's celebrations.

"The prices have gone up, but there are no more goods than before," said Nadezhda, a pensioner. "Maybe they haven't had time to deliver them yet. After all, yesterday was a holiday."

Still, there were exceptions.

Many shops carried canned fish, various types of sausage, bread and sometimes preserves.

Alcohol, for example, was in severe shortage before the price reform. But on Thursday champagne, wine and vodka were in abundance, though at much higher prices than before.

In one store, chicken and meat were suddenly bountiful. Entire display cases brimmed with whole chickens and thick slices of pork, an extraordinary sight in a country long used to austerity.

"(Free prices) should have been introduced earlier," said Alexander Nestorov, a manager in a newly privatized machine tool factory. "We wouldn't be in such a state now if they had."