UKRAINIAN FARMERS IN DIRE NEED OF FUEL. The government's failure to deliver fuel to Ukrainian farmers means that crops may not be planted and this year's harvest will be threatened, the Ukrainian News agency reported on 2 February. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vasyl Shpak said the government is "lagging behind" and that farms in most regions will begin planting in "two or three weeks." The government pledged to supply some 2.2 million tons of fuel to farmers but has so far reportedly delivered only 2,750 tons. In other news, the government raised the monthly minimum wage from 55 hryvni ($16) to 74 hryvni, as stipulated by a bill approved by the parliament in December. The average monthly wage in Ukraine in December was 176 hryvni. PB

SOCIALIST PARTY LEADER TOPS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL. Some 15 percent of respondents in a recent poll chose Natalia Vitrenko, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, as their favored presidential candidate, AP reported on 1 February. President Leonid Kuchma came in second with 13 percent, followed by Oleksandr Moroz of the Socialist Party and Communist Party head Petro Symonenko with 10 percent each. The election is scheduled for 31 October. The poll was conducted by Socis-Gallup. PB

UKRAINE CRACKS DOWN ON ILLEGAL ALCOHOL PRODUCTION. Ukrainian tax police shut down 24 illegal alcohol plants in January, Interfax reported on 31 January. Ukrainian tax police chief Viktor Zhvaliuk said the crackdown is a continuation of a program begun last year, when police uncovered some 200 elicit alcohol production sites. More than 30,000 people have been poisoned by low-quality alcohol since 1997. Officials estimate that nearly 50 percent of cigarettes and one-quarter of alcohol sold in Ukraine is either smuggled or illegally produced. PB