UKRAINIAN HRYVNYA TO BE DE FACTO DEVALUED. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 1 September said that the official exchange corridor of the hryvnya will be broadened, the Kyiv newspaper "Den" reported on 2 September. Kuchma explained that the government wants to shield the interests of Ukrainian exporters in Russia in the wake of the financial crisis in the neighboring country. The introduction of a new hryvnya exchange corridor was confirmed by National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko the following day in the parliament. According to ITAR-TASS, financial experts think that the upper exchange limit should be raised to 2.45 hryvni to $1 as a minimum. The government previously pledged to maintain the national currency within the exchange corridor of 1.8-2.25 hryvni to $1 until the end of this year. JM

UKRAINIAN TEACHERS START SCHOOL YEAR WITH STRIKE. According to the Ukrainian Education Ministry, more than 320 schools did not reopen in Ukraine on 1 September as teachers launched a strike over unpaid wages, dpa reported. The teachers' trade union claimed that some 450 Ukrainian schools remained closed. Ukrainian Television on 1 September reported that total wage arrears to teachers exceed 400 million hryvni ($177 million). Most affected by the teachers' action are Ternopil, Chernihiv, and Kirovohrad Oblast, where teachers have not been paid for some six months. Teachers in Kherson are proposing a "forced job pause" to allow them to find temporary employment at kolkhozes to earn money for the winter, Ukrainian Television reported. JM

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN TRADE DECLINES. Belarusian Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Valeryy Sadokha has said Belarusian producers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete on foreign markets, Belapan reported on 1 September. He cited declining exports and a growing negative foreign trade balance. In the first half of this year, Belarusian exports to Canada fell by 67 percent, to Israel by 58 percent, and to Poland by 33 percent, compared with the same period last year. Belarus's negative trade balance with Germany reached $250 million, with Ukraine $226 million, and with Poland $70 million. Sadokha appealed to Belarusian embassies to do everything in their power to enhance foreign trade "under difficult circumstances of [Belarus's] international isolation." JM

KUCHMA DECREES ADDITIONAL SUMS FOR PENSION FUND. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has decreed temporary charges on the sale of gold jewelry, cars, and gasoline to be paid as compulsory pension insurance, Ukrainian News reported on 31 August. Under the decree, retailers must pay 3 percent of the price of each piece of gold jewelry (except wedding rings), 100 hryvni (some $44) for each car, and 1 kopeck for each liter of gasoline. Another presidential decree bans enterprises that owe wages from raising employees' wages or benefits until the wage arrears have been paid. JM

IMF NEEDS 'TWO MORE DAYS' TO DECIDE ON LOAN TO UKRAINE. The IMF needs another two days to decide on a $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September, citing an unidentified source in Ukraine's presidential administration. Ukraine urgently needs IMF support in order to replenish its hard-currency reserves to stabilize the falling hryvnya. The hryvnya's official exchange rate on 31 August reached the upper limit of 2.25 to $1 dollar, which was introduced by the National Bank until the end of this year. Unofficial rates ranged from 2.35-2.45 to $1, making people "rush to buy whatever they can afford," AP reported on 31 August. JM

LUKASHENKA URGES 'DECISIVE STEPS' TOWARD SLAVIC UNITY. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 31 August that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine should take "more decisive steps" toward closer integration during the current financial crisis in Russia, AP reported. In his opinion, only the united efforts of the three Slavic states can soften consequences of the crisis. "If we do not make these steps toward each other, we will commit another crime, I stress, a crime," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. JM