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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Confusion Greets New Ukraine Note

KIEV -- There was confusion in the street -- but optimism in officialdom -- when Ukraine on Monday launched its new currency, the hryvna.


Ukrainian officials hailed the debut as a sign that the country's post-Soviet economic woes are coming to an end.


But dumping old karbovanets -- the beleaguered interim currency introduced in 1992 -- for crisp, new hryvna turned out to be tougher than many expected.


In Kiev, most exchange offices refused to open at their usual time Monday morning, saying they hadn't received the new banknotes yet or didn't have permission from higher-ups to trade the currency. Lines snaked around the block at post offices and the few banks that were selling hryvna. Angry Ukrainians faced off with equally frustrated cashiers demanding complex documentation to exchange money.


But after a few hours, exchange points began to open, and queues diminished. Stores across the country were closed as shopkeepers put new prices on their goods. Others said they were afraid to open because they didn't have enough hryvna to give out as change.


The government had ordered a price freeze for the next two weeks while both currencies are still in circulation.


The Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange held its first hryvna trading Monday. The currency traded at the expected 1.76 to the dollar, and there was a $7.77-million trade volume, Interfax said.


The currency replacement will also remove the strings of zeros on Ukrainian prices. The karbovanets has plunged in value in its first two years, and traded at 176,100 to the dollar last week.


The central bank has conducted a massive information campaign -- including a national television address by President Leonid Kuchma on Sunday -- to assuage fears about the switch. Still, skepticism remained high Monday.


"It's completely incomprehensible. I can't change dollars or coupons. No one knows anything," complained Serhy Shamarin, an unemployed Kiev resident.


But Dmytro Rikhberg, spokesman for the National Bank, was enthusiastic about the launch. "It's a successful start of reforms. We're not seeing any problems with exchanges," he said.