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Blue Christmas for Soviet Shoppers : Retail: Toys are difficult to find at any price. Even Ded Moroz, the Soviet Santa, may not be able to deliver the goods.

From Associated Press

After a year of unprecedented food shortages, bare store shelves and long lines, can it be that even the Russian version of Santa Claus will be carrying an empty sack?

Da, humbug.

Shoppers complain bitterly that they cannot find the toys their children so desperately want for New Year’s Day--the gift-giving holiday most Soviets celebrate instead of Christmas.

On the morning of Jan. 1, Soviet children will wake up early and receive their presents from Ded Moroz, or “Grandfather Frost,” a jolly old white-bearded elf similar to Santa Claus.

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But the Evening Moscow newspaper wrote recently that the Soviet economy is so bad, “not even Ded Moroz, with his magic powers, can solve the shortages, and his sack may be empty.”

In the selection of toys at Detsky Mir, the cavernous, five-story children’s store adjacent to KGB headquarters in Dzherzhinsky Square, there’s not much that would hold a child’s interest for long.

There were lots of inexpensive crude plastic items, such as lambs, elves and rabbits best suited for playing with in the bathtub, simple trucks and cars, toy guns, tambourines and small toy soldiers for sale. There seemed to be an oversupply of toy men with headbands and spears in a box marked simply “Indians.”

But there were no battery-operated toys or electronic games, and no dolls for sale, even though some were displayed in the store’s huge picture windows.

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Marina, a 30-year-old Muscovite who wouldn’t give her last name, was near tears as she explained her desperation in one of the store’s dingy corridors.

“My daughter is 7. She wants a Barbie doll,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “I am ready to pay 100 rubles for a Barbie, but it is impossible to buy it even for 100 rubles. I feel very bad about it.”

One hundred rubles is more than a week’s salary for an average Soviet worker.

Yelena Ilyinichna, a graying sales clerk at Detsky Mir for 25 years, said the best toy she had for sale was a small jeep-like car. “I feel very sorry for our customers, and for myself, as I can’t unfortunately offer them anything worth buying,” she said.

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