* Ukraine’s hryvnia to remain parallel currency till end-2015
* Exchange rates vary widely in shops, restaurants
* Russia consolidating hold on Black Sea peninsula
By Gabriela Baczynska
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, March 24 (Reuters) - Annexed by Russia, Crimea took the rouble as its official currency on Monday, but confusion over the exchange rate meant the hryvnia was still the main form of money changing hands.
The transfer was part of a swift consolidation of Russia’s hold on the Black Sea peninsula, which voted in a referendum on March 16 to become part of Russia and was annexed from Ukraine five days later. Ukraine said on Monday it would evacuate its troops and their families, effectively acknowledging defeat.
The Bank of Crimea, created last week by the local parliament but lacking a formal address, website or phone number, set the exchange rate at 3.8 roubles per one Ukrainian hryvnia until April 1. That value that will be used for all public budget calculations, including taxes.
But in Simferopol, Crimea’s main city, the rate ranged widely. At some banks, shops and restaurants it was as low as 2.6. At a small shop in the nearby village of Perevelnoye, it hit 4.
“I’m ready to accept roubles in principle, I even went to the bank in the morning to check out the exchange rate. But nobody has wanted to pay in roubles yet,” said Elvira, a manager at a small jewellery store in central Simferopol.
“I’m not changing the prices yet because they told me in Sberbank it’s 3.07 roubles for one hryvnia, while I was expecting 3.38. So let’s wait and see,” she said.
The Bank of Crimea publishes currency exchange rate information, based on that of the Russian central bank, on the website of the Crimean finance ministry (www.minfin.crimea.ua), which is still registered on a Ukrainian Internet domain.
Neither the local government in Simferopol nor the Bank of Crimea were available for comment on the currency switch.
The hryvnia is due to remain a parallel currency until the end of 2015, and many businesses refused to accept the rouble at all on Monday.
Crimea’s ethnic Russians, a narrow majority, see their annexation by Moscow as a promise of prosperity, fed by Russian state coffers that dwarf those of Ukraine.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said last week that Crimea’s estimated 55 billion rouble ($1.53 billion) budget deficit would be covered with funds from the federal budget.
But some of those standing queues at cash machines on Monday - a common sight in Crimea after banks put limits on cash withdrawals as the military stand-off escalated - were worried that prices would rise.
“Everything will be more expensive,” said Yelena Vladimirova, a pensioner queuing at a Sberbank ATM.
“Unfortunately, that’s inevitable when switching currencies. Latvia had the same thing with the adoption of the euro,” she said. “But I guess we’ve been through so much that we’ll go through this all the same.” (Editing by Matt Robinson, Larry King)