7km Market

Sedmoi trades in clothes of every imaginable kind, shoes, furniture, electrical goods, domestic utensils, cleaning goods, sports equipment, videos, music, jewellery, cosmetics, leather goods, ceramics, spare parts for cars and other machinery, do-it-yourself and home decoration goods, souvenirs, …and practically anything transportable that can be traded (though relatively few food or animal products are sold there). Legal, transport and employment services are also big business. The market has its own website with a detailed map and news update (http://www.7km.net), administrative building, and feared police and guards.

Business starts early in the morning at around 4 o’clock; the really illegal transactions, e.g. guns and drugs, are rumoured to take place before this, ‘at night’ (Polese 2007). After the market closes, around 3 in the afternoon, when all the buses and cars have departed, nothing remains but a desolate landscape of battered containers, a few box-like concrete shops with steel shutters, and plastic bags blowing in the wind. The market becomes animated again when exclusively wholesale trade starts up late in the evening and continues through the night.

Founded in 1989, as perestroika reforms were getting underway, Sedmoi claims to be the largest market in Europe. It has roughly 16,000 traders and a staff of 1,200 (mostly guards and janitors), making it the region’s largest employer. Daily sales were quoted at USD 20 million in 2004 and must have grown since then. An estimated 150,000 customers arrive each day, coming not only from all over Ukraine but also from a radius of up to 300 miles into Russia and other East European countries. The practice is to make an overnight daytrip of it, with most customers coming to buy ‘wholesale’ (optom) in order to re-sell in small towns and villages. Setting out one morning by bus, one can reach Sedmoi by nightfall, catch the early morning sales, grab a bite to eat, pile back into the bus or trains groaning under goods, and be home by nightfall the next day. Some villages in the poverty-struck Ukrainian countryside have their own depots, called ‘Our Sedmoi’, which middlemen traders (‘perekupshchiki’) periodically replenish from the main Odessa site.