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AP PHOTOS: In Belarus, shops on wheels are a lifeline

Associated Press Associated Press 4/11/2016 By SERGEI GRITS, Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 photo, a shop on wheels arrives in the village of Goryachki, some 90 kilometers (57.5 miles) from Minsk, Belarus. The vans carrying basic foodstuffs are not only a convenient way to purchase everyday goods when the nearest grocery stores are a long journey away, but they are a source of local news, gossip and an opportunity to encounter friends and acquaintances. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) © The Associated Press In this Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 photo, a shop on wheels arrives in the village of Goryachki, some 90 kilometers (57.5 miles) from Minsk, Belarus. The vans carrying basic foodstuffs are not only a convenient way to purchase everyday goods when the nearest grocery stores are a long journey away, but they are a source of local news, gossip and an opportunity to encounter friends and acquaintances. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

MINSK, Belarus — For many people in remote villages in Belarus, shops on wheels are a lifeline.

In the small settlements of Zagorye, Goryachki and Lyubno, several hours drive west of the capital Minsk, the arrival of a van carrying basic foodstuffs is a twice-weekly event. The service is not only a convenient way to purchase everyday goods, but to find out all the local news and gossip.

When the shop on wheels rolled into the village of Lyubno on a recent day, it stopped in the center of the cluster of wooden houses. Two old women were the only buyers.

In the nearby village of Zagorye, there were a few more customers. They make their selection from the goods on offer: things like bread, dairy products, meat, cheese and vegetables, along with cigarettes, vodka and household items like light bulbs. People spend anything up to 285,000 Belarusian rubles ($15).

Those seeking something that is not in stock leave specific orders with the shop assistant, who promises to bring it next time.

While villages in the Belarusian countryside fill up with holidaymakers in the summer months, for much of the long winters they are home to just a handful of older people.

In Soviet times, the hamlets had social clubs, shops and regular transport links. But fewer people in recent years have seen bus services cut and local grocery stores close down because they are unable to turn a profit.

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Associated Press Writer Howard Amos in Moscow contributed to this report.

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