Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

The elders often tell their children about their Soviet youth. They listen with delight about the “supermarkets” of the USSR, kinds of goods one could and could not buy, about their schoolyears so different from those of today. Let us remember more details…

Soviet groceries were so much unlike those we do shopping at today. Nowadays we fill shopping carts with various stuff in colorful packing, put bags with this stuff in cars and rush back home. If anyone could have seen us with such bags in the USSR, he would have probably considered us to be millionaires.

Supermarkets were called “Universam” stores and that means “Universal stores”.

Typical Soviet “Universam”.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Apart from so-called supermarkets there were smaller grocery stores in every neighborhood.


Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

There were wooden or metal bread stands with a tied metal spoon for testing bread’s freshness. One could always feel fine smell of just-baked bread.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Dairy stores could boast of the rich range ofย  dairy products – milk, kefir, sour acidophilus milk, ryazhenka (fermented baked milk), sour cream. People lined up for butter when it wasn’t even delivered yet.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

“Dairy products”

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Dairy products were usually sold in glass bottles transported in such metal boxes. When a car with milk was coming up, the rattle of these boxes was heard from far away.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Fish stores often sold a lot of preserved fish and intense herring smell could be felt inside.


Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

It was such a chic to open a can of Baltic sprats canned with oil for the New Year celebration.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Famous sign “Vegetables-fruits”.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

There was also a special smell inside these stores – smell of cabbage, beetroots, carrot and sour cucumbers.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

There were also innumerable glass jars. Instead of Tetra Paks one could buy 3-liter jars with tomato, apple, pear or birch juice.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

“Mineral waters”

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed


Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

The stores presented a rather miserable spectacle inside. On the picture below you may see a sales area of an ordinary Soviet “supermarket”. The checkout counters look a bit like modern ones but back then one couldn’t buy some bubble gum there.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

In a meat section meat lay on metal trays that’s why there was always a rattle when taking away and putting them back.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Meat and sausage departments could boast of very advanced equipment – wooden boards, knives and scales with weights. No slicers, electronic scales, shrink-wrap or a packing person. Sausages were sliced into 200-300 gr pieces. One was allowed to buy only one piece. To buy more people had to take their children or relatives with them.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Line by the store is waiting for opening to get inside first hoping to buy some hard-to-get goods.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Today standing in a supermarket line of three we begin to express our indignation because not all checkout counters are working. Soviet people were used to stay in longer lines, it was an everyday occurence.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

While parents stood in lines, children went to schools.

The distinctive feature of Soviet schools was a school uniform that is practically no more used in modern Russia. It was usually of two colors- brown and blue.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Girls could choose between these two colors as well. Girls uniform of that time is popular nowadays only among highschool graduates which put it on for the last day at school.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Such emblems kids used to wear on the sleeves of their uniform.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

Everyone was a member of Communist Union of Youth or a pioneer and wore such badges on the lapels.

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

And of course pioneers wore a red pioneer tie, the main must-have item. If the tie was tied incorrectly a teacher had to reprimand.

“Happy pioneer’s day!”

Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed

via aquatek-filips

61 thoughts on “Soviet Reality That Seems Never Existed”

  1. I am endlessly fascinated by all the inaccuracies that are written on this blog due to the fact that the authors were (possibly) born after the fall of the Soviet Union. While most of the descriptions of shopping are correct, there are a couple of significant differences:
    “MIneral Waters” and “Fish” are not stores, they are section in a supermarket, much like “Juice” or “Sweets” would have been. The only food shops that were specialized were bakeries, dairy, and fruit/veg. There WERE indeed separate fish stores, but they in themselves were supermarkets, and were usually called “Ocean”.

    Also, there were never any official limitations on how much bologna you could buy – there were local limits by store, based on the fact that there were food shortages. For a casual observer, it would be wrong to think that ALL of Soviet Union operated with the long lines and empty shelves for the entirety of its existence. Some regions were better off economically than other, and while there were merchandize deficits in ALL areas of economy, the 1970s and 80s provided a fairly normal food experience, until the entire system began its systematic breakdown. The long lines you see in the photos all date to between 1986 and 1991, which coincided with prohibition and rationing due to chronic shortages – official rationing only lasted 2 years, between 1989-1991.

    • In Soviet Latvia there were separate small FISH stores, indeed, I remember cleary as it happened yesterday. Moscow – that should be a separate story…

    • Yeah, very interesting detailed comments. They add a lot of value to these fascinating images. Thanks for taking the trouble to share! It makes a great blog even better!

    • You are not correct about rationing and limitation of sausage. Everything was limited, because the stores got only a certain amount, since they were owned by the Government. Not one store was private. And sometimes when the bread was delivered from the big bakery-factories to the store, they never made it to the store, because hungry people got it beforehand, and stole it from the truck, or the drivers would sell it to hungry people for double the price.
      If you as a tourist stayed in the nicest hotel in Moskau, and you did not make it to breakfast in the first 5 minutes of the Restaurant opening, you got nothing. And ordering Hot tea to your room, was getting hot water only, while the delivery guy asked: Oh, you did not bring your own teabag.

  2. Excellent series of photos.

    @Ani Thank you for the clarifications very enlightening. That should probably get edited into the article. Some of the photos being described as stores yet clearly more accurately described as ‘stands’ made me wonder.

    @kommunist You are cancer.

  3. Interesting photo’s.

    I’m surprised though, that Russians would stand in line for butter. Seems it would be just as easy for them to purchase milk, and make their own butter.

    I mean, it just seems that would be part of “russian ingenuity”, and not so much a US thing. I doubt hardly any Americans would know how to make butter if they had to.

    • Only if you’re getting whole milk in those bottles. And save up the cream you’ve skimmed off.

      In most semi-modern dairy operations it’s been passed through a cream separator so the cream can be processed for other products, including making butter.

    • Mr. Johnson, No doubt they would of done it if they could of because it’s a very simple thing to do, but not with pasteurized milk.

      Otherwise put the unpasteurized milk in a canning jar, screw the lid on and shake the Hell out of it until you have butter.

    • You think my grandmother did not know about how to churn butter?! My family is from the Appalachians area of the U.S.

      Just for your information, I know at least three ways to churn out butter, by hand. One involves the use of a skin bag, another uses a hand churn and dasher, and another uses a hand cranked machine. I have not even gotten into the modern ways I could name either.

      All people become clever, when they need to be clever.

    • Re: butter – we always made our own cottage cheese (well, that’s the closest description of tvorog i can come up with) because milk was dirt cheap and locally sourced, but in order to churn homemade butter in quantities needed to feed a family of 4, you would need someone staying at home at all times. Since unemployment was illegal and criminally punished, there were virtually no home-makers. And when you consider that all shops were open pretty much the same hours as offices (great invention of equality, that) it was difficult enough to support a household without churning butter.

      I will say, though, that the “lack of technology” in food production significantly reduced household waste – there was barely any plastic packaging to throw away, as everything was either recycled glass, tin, or paper (which composts.)

  4. Say hello to an American who knows how to make butter. *eyeroll* The hard part is finding a butter churn. I happen to own one because my grandmother left it to me. It’s a generational thing. Many people in America made their own butter during the Great Depression. Some passed the equipment along, others didn’t.

    • It’s still was far superior to the U.S. public system. There are plenty of Amer. young people who went through the whole 12 years and still ignorant and semi-literate. I know. Why are you so bitter?

      • Excuse my bad grammar,LOL. I mean: “It’s still far superior..” and “12 years and are still..”
        I went through the Amer. system. The Soviet system was far more challenging than the U.S. system.

      • I am unfortunately old enough to remember the bad old times. And I am allergic to any USSR-algia horse manure. 1945 – 1989 were extremely bad times for any CE country occupied by USSR. Compare the econonomical development of CZ vs. Austria, DDR vs. W. Germany, Estonia vs. Finland etc. during these times.
        End of story.

        • @Czenda, 1945 โ€“ 1989 were “extremely” bad times for ALL CE commie occupied countries? Are you sure? I’m from Poland and left with family before ’89 but do know quite a lot about what life was there as that’s an interest of mine. A cousin’s husband was one of the founders of Solidarity and even HE would disagree with you.

          People in commie occupied Europe STILL LIVED BETTER THAN THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE WORLD!!

          I know enough people from ALL the communist European countries, including the USSR and have very good perspective on how life was. For protestant Christians, life in some of the communist countries was pretty bad but that varied, we didn’t have problems in Poland. early 80’s weren’t much fun but life wasn’t that bad, though life in West was much preferred.

          Some Moldovan friends are coming for dinner in a couple of minutes, educated people, and it will be another very interesting evening.

          @czenda, don’t be so jaded, it makes it hard to take you seriously.

          I think communism is and was the most disgusting blight on humanity but even it had its merits as SovMarxist points out. My friends whose father was beat up and poisoned by Soviet border guards in front of them would agree.

          • The bad Commie times brought a prosperous, well industrialized pre-war Czechoslovakia below the level of agricultural European countries which had the good luck of being liberated from the Nazis by Western Allies and not by the Bolshevik Plague. The pre-war Czechoslovakia was superior in terms of industrial manufacture and average income to e.g. Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece.
            The final “coup de grace” to any sympathies felt towards USSR was 1968.
            No, please – we do not want any more filthy snouts in our nicely maintained garden ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • Stalin and Stalinism ruined everything. I wonder what would have happened if Lenin had had the guts to dump Stalin and go w. Trotsky. But his ego was too big- he thought only a collective leadership could succeed his “superior” leadership…

    • Birch juice is extracted from the birch trees during early spring. It is said to have healing effects etc. Ask your nearest seller of “organic” or “bio” stuff ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • It is essentially birch tree sap. Much like sugar maple trees are tapped for their sweet sap, which is boiled down to make a thick syrup. Birch juice is not reduced in this way. Usually served chilled, it’s quite refreshing.

        • Don’t drink the birch juice, it’s garbage. Even when the shops had empty shelves in the USSR, I remember there were always cans of birch juice and sometimes some sort of a pickled seaweed salad that nobody every bought. It tastes horrible.

          • “pickled seaweed salad”? Man, this just keeps getting better! ๐Ÿ™‚

            I learn more about Russia from the comments here than I did from my trips there. Apparently I need to go back and talk to more of the older guys.

            Thanks for the comment.

  5. The true face of a planned economy. Anything can be a bottleneck, be it bananas, vacuum extractor sacks or a toilet paper ๐Ÿ™
    F_cuk_in* C_omm_ies!

    • A planned economy done right is superior to a capitalist one. You must want to be rich. Under socialism you won’t be.

      • @sovmarxist, has there ever been a planned economy done right, and superior to a capitalist one?

        Maybe in Heaven, where there are no selfish, sinful people. For our selfish, sinful existence, capitalism is the natural way since the first prostitute walked the street.

  6. I have seen photos of present day Americans standing in line for days to buy electronic goods, and when it becomes their turn, there is no more merchandise.
    So which system is better?

  7. This reminds me of when some relatives came over from the USSR in 1982. They went along for the ride when my grandmother was dropped off at the local Stop and Shop. They were amazed that she came out 30 minutes later with a cart overstuffed with food. Such things were never seen by them in the USSR!

    I still have the toy Lunochod I and tracked polar vehicle they brought me when they came to visit. Only recently have I come to understand the significance of the gift as my aunt was a school teacher. The Lunochod I was, of course, representative of the greatest Soviet space achievement up to that time and the polar vehicle represented the Soviet polar expedition of the 1970’s. Oddly enough, it was this site that helped me figure that out.

  8. Scene in Soviet Russia:
    A guy goes into a shop and looks around.
    “You don’t have fish?”
    “We are a butcher’s,” says the shopkeeper, “we don’t have meat. The fish shop across the road doesn’t have fish”.

  9. Those pictures of people lining up for stuff remind me of when I was young and on my way to College in Copenhagen, Denmark. I flew Aeroflot because it was cheap for me. I spent five days in Moscow and was very suprised to see people queuing for bread. Something that did not even happen in Zambia, Africa.

    But I am glad the so-called cold war is over. What a waste of money and frienship that was. I thank the people of Russia for help liberate a lot of my fellow Africans.

  10. i dont know whats worse, this old russia or the new one. here in canada i can buy whatever i want, others starve the same if they do not earn decent money. there must be a balance in between. some have to much and others not enough. very complicated.

  11. Why do the cashiers use a abacus when they are in front of a register?In Ekaterinburg I didn’t wait in a long line and every shelf in the store was fully stocked with goods and the shop was very clean and it was very easy for the beautiful Ruska I was with to get money out of the touch screen ATM!

  12. I live in Lithuania. A former USSR country. we had the courage to rebel. The Russian way was horrible. There were stores and etc.. and they had goods in it, but there was no way to buy them it was just for show, food was also hard to obtain. I mean we had milk and bread and some meat but that is like it… you had to wait in lines and have tickets to obtain certain goods.. there was an iron curtain from the rest of the world.. we Lithuanians had it good, but the Russians were suffering badly..

  13. > People lined up for butter when it wasn’t even delivered yet.

    Your pictures with lines and empty shops are from Gorbachev’s times, when he already started his perestroika.

  14. There was a limit on how much bologna a person can buy? Nothing like soaring to the sky on a bologna high. Dairy stores could boast of the rich range of dairy products โ€“ milk, kefir, sour acidophilus milk, ryazhenka (fermented baked milk), sour cream. People lined up for butter when it wasnโ€™t even delivered yet.-Proof that we have it far better in the U.S.

  15. It wasn’t long ago I had a Russian family move into our apt. bld. I bet they went to the store 30 times a day, not to buy, but to make sure there was still food in the store.

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