Twenty-seven years of arduous and often risky work in state-run factories have bequeathed Olga Kovalenko, a 71-year-old former electrical engineer, a monthly pension of 5,020 soms, or just over $100. “It is enough to buy bread, and almost enough to butter it,” she jokes.
Kovalenko can afford to maintain a sense of humor. In a village outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law, who both are employed. Her neighbor Alina Romazanova, 60, is less fortunate. Only able to prove she worked eight years as a school janitor, her pension is 2,400 soms, or around $50, and she relies on irregular donations from her nephew, who works in Russia, for sustenance. On one occasion, when Romazanova received a court order threatening to cut off her gas as a result of unpaid utilities, Kovalenko’s family stepped in to foot the bill.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.