The US, UK and EU have put in place unprecedented financial penalties on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, and hundreds of international companies have pulled out of the country.
The impact of these measures is just starting to be felt, with the cost of basic products rising, a looming risk of job losses, and for some, an increasing sense of isolation.
Here are some of the ways daily life has been changing. All names have been changed, and currency conversions were correct at time of publication.
Cooking oil, sugar and blood pressure medication
Consumer prices jumped 2.2% in the first week of the invasion, with food among the biggest rises • Some shops are restricting the sale of staples, after reports of hoarding • Sales of medicines are not subject to sanctions, but with major shipping companies suspending services, supplies could be hit
The rouble has plummeted since Russia invaded Ukraine, leading many retailers to raise their prices. Daria, who lives in central Moscow, says she’s not yet seen empty shelves. “Food won’t disappear but will get more expensive,” she says. “How much more expensive, I can’t imagine – and am scared to even think about.”
Jan, is an EU citizen who lives and works in Moscow. “On 20 February I ordered groceries for 5,500 roubles [about $57; £44] and now the same basket costs 8,000,” he says. The price of milk has almost doubled in the past two weeks, he adds.
Sugar and cereal prices were already about 20% higher this February than a year ago. Russian state news agency Tass said some retailers had agreed to limit price rises on some staples to 5%. Others are restricting the amount of basics like flour, sugar and oil that customers can buy.
Daria has been stocking up. “We bought 4kg of coffee, 4 litres of sunflower oil, 4 litres of olive oil and four bottles of whisky.” She has also ordered a three-month supply of medication for her high blood pressure – she says some drugs are already harder to get hold of.
Last iPhones, and a last chance at ‘foreign bliss’
The price of some consumer goods has drastically increased • The cost of smartphones and televisions has increased by more than 10% and an average vacation to Turkey has increased by 29% • Major brands like Apple, Ikea and Nike no longer sell their products in Russia
Daria had been considering buying new laptops for her family, and rushed ahead with the purchase as she saw prices steadily increase. “At the beginning of February they cost about 70,000 roubles [$730; £560] but by the end of the month they had gone up to 100,000 roubles, which is what we paid. They then went up to 140,000 before they all sold out in Moscow.”
They didn’t buy iPhone chargers, though many others did – Apple said on 2 March that it would halt all direct product sales in Russia. “We probably should have,” Daria says. “There’s a joke now that we all have the last iPhone.”
New cars have also gone up in price. “We bought filters and oil for the car for when it needs a service,” Daria says. “We managed to buy them at the old prices before they almost doubled before our eyes.”
Pavel, a university lecturer with a wife and two children, was looking to buy appliances for their flat in Moscow. On the day the war started, he saw some prices rise by nearly 30%. He managed to buy a fridge, cooker, washing machine and a kettle, and ordered a bed and a cupboard from Ikea just a day before it closed. He doesn’t think prices in Ikea changed. “They simply didn’t have time to raise prices,” Pavel jokes sadly.
The symbolism of McDonald’s closing its 847 restaurants has not been lost on Russians – it was among the first Western firms to open in the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Within hours of the announcement, thousands of adverts appeared from Russians reselling food from its restaurants, at up to 10 times the usual price. “Nuggets and pies bought just before the restaurant chain closed down. Your last chance to taste foreign bliss,” said one message.
But Vladimir, who lives in Saratov in south western Russia, says he has yet to feel the impact of Western sanctions. “Vatniki [Kremlin supporters] won’t be affected by the fall in the rouble, because they don’t buy expensive foreign goods.”
Losing customers and juggling credit cards
Russian banks removed from Swift international payment system • Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Apple and Google Pay limit their services in Russia • Russian central bank says economy could shrink by up to 8%
“The situation has had a big impact on our business,” says Natasha, who works in the fitness industry. “Our customer numbers are down. People are asking us to refund their club membership. And our costs for rent, equipment and cleaning are all rising. Outgoings have gone up by 30% on average since sanctions were introduced.” She anticipates that many businesses like hers will close. Those that don’t will struggle to find Russian manufacturers to replace imported equipment.
Ekaterina runs a number of language schools and says the sanctions have already caused her problems. “We have teachers in other countries we can’t pay because all the transfer networks are frozen. We also have students in the US, Germany and Latvia who can’t pay their fees into our accounts. We’ve found ways around it but at the moment every working day begins with fire-fighting a new crisis.”
Ekaterina is worried how they will manage their international group lessons if Zoom is blocked, and says she has had problems because her online platforms were maintained by a company in Ukraine.
“Everything stopped immediately although we worked with them for ages. We were very happy with them and their work was top class. We are very upset for them, for ourselves, that we’re all in this situation,” she says.
Natasha is finding it hard to come to terms with the changes. “This is a completely new kind of crisis which makes us all feel lost and bewildered. Not just in business but in our own lives. The loss of income, having to give up a whole way of life, reduced connections, including on social media, and not being able to travel to see family and friends who live abroad. There are a lot of things we have already lost and haven’t yet fully understood.”
Daria says hearing about job losses as big international companies pull out of Russia worries her. “So far there aren’t any cuts in the government-funded projects I work on,” she says, “but I’m very scared of losing my job.”
Media closures and Cold War memories
New law threatens to jail anyone deemed to have spread “fake” news on the invasion • Independent and international media subject of severe restrictions • More than 13,000 people arrested in anti-war protests
Daria holds President Putin responsible for the sanctions, but most Russians get their news from state-run media, which carries the Kremlin’s anti-Ukraine propaganda. Many people support him and may end up blaming the West for sanctions.
Others don’t approve of the war, but stay silent – it’s risky for Russians to criticise their leader. Western governments hope the sanctions being piled on Russians will hurt enough to bring change at the top, but that could take time.
The view that only better-off Russians will feel the pain of sanctions is debatable. No-one is sure quite what’s going to happen next, but the economic fallout is expected to be severe and long lasting. Russia’s central bank said there had been a “drastic” economic change since the invasion.
On the surface you might not guess what’s going on in Moscow, says Daria. The city’s cafes and restaurants are full, the metro is working, the traffic jams in the centre haven’t gone anywhere. “That’s if you don’t see the protests, the searches and the departures of creative people who make a big noise about leaving. A lot of other people are probably quietly leaving too. This gives me the feeling that we’re running out of air,” she says.
Today’s events bring back memories of the 1990s, when Russia’s economy collapsed after the Soviet Union fell apart. “It’s been interesting talking to people in their 30s about those times and the ration cards we had for food. We had coupons and tokens to buy sugar, butter and vodka,” says Daria.
“I remember the huge queues to buy sausage… There were often loud arguments, against selling things to the out-of-town shoppers. It was shameful. I hope it doesn’t come to that again.
“I’m afraid that there will be more burglaries and robberies because of a sudden increase in poverty and job losses,” she says.
Jan says he hasn’t noticed life changing in a big way and he doesn’t plan to leave. “My family and my work are here. It’s very hard to start life all over again in a new place.”