CHORNOBYL, SUBSTANCE ABUSE TAKE THEIR TOLL. Pskov Oblast's population is shrinking, largely as a result of the poor health and/or unhealthy life style of the local residents, according to RFE/RL Russian Service's "Korrespondentskii chas" on 14 October. Over the past 10 or so years, the region's population has decreased from some 850,000 to 800,000. One of the principal reasons for the decline is considered to be contamination of the soil and water supplies and the high level of radiation following the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Psychologists maintain that high levels of stress are evident on account of unemployment and a pessimistic outlook on life. Alcoholism among the male population has become "the norm," while drug abuse is growing among the oblast's youth, including heroin consumption. And while the influx of migrants from the neighboring Baltic states, Central Asia, and the Caucasus might help boost population numbers, xenophobia in the oblast remains strong, as does the fear that the new arrivals might snatch away jobs from the locals. JC

UKRAINE EXPECTS BETTER GROWTH THAN PLANNED. First Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 25 October that the government expects this year's GDP to grow by at least 3.5 percent compared with last year, Interfax reported. Earlier this year, the government predicted that the economy would grow by 2 percent in 2000. Yekhanurov said newly privatized food and wood-processing companies were among the main factors contributing to the revised growth estimate. JM

UKRAINE LAUNCHES PRIVATIZATION OF REGIONAL ENERGY DISTRIBUTORS. The State Property Fund has announced a tender for privatizing three regional energy distributors, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 26 October. The fund wants to sell 75.56 percent of ZhytomyrOblEnergo, 75 percent of KyivOblEnergo, and 75 percent RivneOblEnergo. The asking prices for those stakes are 95.174 million hryvni ($17.5 million), 174.032 million hryvni, and 100.612 million hryvni, respectively. Conditions of the tender include repaying the energy distributors' debts to energy-generating companies, uninterrupted supplies of electricity to consumers who have no debts, and preserving jobs for one year after the purchase. The tender date has been set for 22 February 2001. The fund plans to announce next month the terms for selling another three regional energy distributors. President Leonid Kuchma commented in Lisbon the same day that corruption and the influence of "oligarchs" over the economy will ease once Ukraine privatizes its key assets, Reuters reported. JM