Communal Apartments in Russia

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First communal apartments, where several families live together, appeared in Russia back in the 18th century, when the landlords divided their apartments into several parts and rented them out. Such apartments had five or six rooms and a kitchen, where all tenants cooked their food.
To solve the housing problems after the October revolution the authorities allowed requisitioning of rich people’s living space for new tenants, mainly communists, soldiers and security officers.

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This was quite wide-spread in Leningrad, because the capital of the Imperial Russia had lots of huge and gorgeous apartments. As bourgeoisie was considered to be a kind of second-grade people in the new state, they had to make a sacrifice in the name of the Revolution and atone sins of their grandfathers, who “parasitized ” on proletarians and at least give their rooms to the “victims’.

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According to the new rules, the living space quota for an adult was ten square meters and for a child it was five square meters, and soon it was lessened to eight meters for each person. If you had more floor space, you had new neighbors, who came to live in your apartment.

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Isolation and privacy was a luxury in the Soviet period, and both new and old tenants were under a total control – spying and ratting on was a common thing.

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A lot of people left villages for cities when a program of industrialization was launched, so the number of communal apartments started to grow rapidly. People, who owned houses or apartments, now couldn’t rent them out officially (during the period of New Economic Policy renting was legal, thought it was totally nixed in a few months).

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Shared facilities usually became the sites of real battles, it was a real nightmare to share a lavatory, a bathroom and a kitchen with drunk neighbors who urinated not into the toilet sink, but near it, who stole your food from the stove and used others’ stuff without asking.

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After Stalin died the state began to move out of communal and into separate family apartments, and Khrushchev’s housing reforms of the 1960s were meant to help it.

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New blocks of flats were called khrushchevkas (or khrushchoby, a compilation of the party leader’s name and a word “trushchoby”, slum), which were rather poor dwellings in fact, but a real heaven for those, who spent at least some years of their life in kommunalkas.

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Communal apartments  got into the culture very deeply, and it is impossible to imagine the cultural the first period in the Soviet history without them.

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Involuntary communal living led to real tragedies, which involved all spectrum of human emotions, usually the negative ones — humiliation, all kind of petty nastiness, barrooms and kitchen fights could be seen in every other kommunalka.

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Now kommunalkas still exist, but to live there is a total disaster. Though, if you want to add some extreme to your life, go and rent it. We can say it for sure that you’ll be the happiest person ever when you finally move out of there to you own place.

Photo credits

Anna Rudenko

31 thoughts on “Communal Apartments in Russia”

      • So, what’s up in UK? Is freedom of speech already banned, or are you still working on it?
        Anyways, I doubt you could spank anyone’s ass- you’d have to stand from your knees first, but you’re too busy bending over backwards for immigrants.

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    • Yes! Despite the fact mostly ER posts are by submission, I believe we are going to a new era with useful informations, like this one.

      BTW, in St. Peter I saw a kommunalka, and the residence for foreign students is almost like this. Russian students live in worse conditions, as a friend that came from Karelia Republic. She lives in SPB center town sharing the space with five other girls.

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      • I’m a foreign student in Russia and we were housed in former communal apartments during our stay in St. Petersburg. They really are cramped and filthy and I think we had some of the nicer ones — ours were pretty big compared to the pics, but it’s hard to say with the furniture and boxes. Thanks for writing this blog, learning lots of good info here!

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  1. Local drunks have quite a prestige in many of the apartments. The blueprint even have two room dedicated to local drunk people. “a bathroom and a kitchen with drunk neighbors who urinated not into the toilet sink, but near it”? so there is no difference between the toilet and sink for urinating purpose.

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  2. In USSR the have communal apartments. In New York people have to live with strangers and have other roommates because rents are too high. Some of them live in a besement, some other in closets where you can’t even stand or room without window.
    In the late 80’s there were lines at the store, in the US people wait a whole night to be the first to buy a new iphone or to be the first to enter at Macy’s during big sales. One person died at Walmart the day after Thanksgiving after being bum-rushed by 200 people who wanted to rush in the store.

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  3. However, in a Capitalist society, there always exists the chance to better yourself, or at least the hope to do so. I am fairly poor from an economic standpoint, but manage to live quite well due to the choices I make and the skills I have. In a Communist nation, I would not be able to exploit the X factors for my life to live better than others in my profession. I would be forced into sameness. For that reason, I like capitalism. It is not that it is a guarantee of a good life, but it is the reality that one is available if I choose to make good decisions.

    (I make about $20k USD a year, and own a 2 bedroom, 2 bath house in a nice neighborhood with an in ground pool, and also manage to own 3 cars.I also live alone and have money to spare.)

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  4. a lot theese ex-communal appartments were occupied illegaly by bandits (i mean not only organized crime, but those who were impuden tenough as well) in 90th and documents were ‘bought’ later – so there are people who now own such appartments, and theese buildings are beautiful from outside, i should say; yet repair was surely required inside.

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  5. Good pictures and good description.

    It is hard to imagine what a complete lack of privacy, non-stop gossip and never-ending envy does to people in the long run.
    The competion-free, class-less society has proved to be a total failure, only leading to corruption and bringing out the worst in people. Try to ‘nick’ what you can and if you cannot have it, make sure someone else will not benefit from it either: just vandalize it or render it unuseable. What is not your personal property is not worthwhile taking care of, that is the mentality, still prominent today.
    Look at modern apartment buildings: the first thing done when moving in is to ‘steal’ as much public space [corridor, stairwell] as you can get your hands on, put a massive steel door with bank-vault quality locks in front of it and do not maintain anything outside of that door. So garbage and gum and whatnot is everywhere in corridors and the direct periferie of the building. ” It is not mine so why should I care for it” someone wrote and yes!, that is the mentality indeed.

    As for the housing described, divorces, troubled childhood, drunks, domestic violence were the direct result… still happening today, as a direct result of being brought up in this type of housing. Even today, every hour a woman in the Russian Federation is beaten to death by [most of the time] her husband/boyfriend, and behaving rude and barbaric towards once neighbors is considered normal.

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  6. hey this report is interesting but seems a bit too extreme! i’m sure there must have been something positive about kommunalkas …

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  7. Note the black stain above the flow-through water heater on the color photo from the kitchen. I suspect there was a gas heater installed without an exhaust piping, thus releasing carbon monoxide etc. right into the room.
    If so, it was indeed a work of pure genius 😮

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    • I noticed that too. I can just imagine the smell of gas in some of those apartments. I wonder if if was natural gas or coal gas. If it was not natural gas the smell would have been even worse and the danger of poisoning much higher.

      These pictures are great. Let’s see more!

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  8. Good pictures and good description.

    It is hard to imagine what a complete lack of privacy, non-stop gossip and never-ending envy does to people in the long run.
    The competion-free, class-less society has proved to be a total failure, only leading to corruption and bringing out the worst in people. Try to ‘nick’ what you can and if you cannot have it, make sure someone else will not benefit from it either: just vandalize it or render it unuseable. What is not your personal property is not worthwhile taking care of, that is the mentality, still prominent today.
    Look at modern apartment buildings: the first thing done when moving in is to ‘steal’ as much public space [corridor, stairwell] as you can get your hands on, put a massive steel door with bank-vault quality locks in front of it and do not maintain anything outside of that door. So garbage and gum and whatnot is everywhere in corridors and the direct periferie of the building. ” It is not mine so why should I care for it” someone wrote and yes!, that is the mentality indeed.

    As for the housing described, divorces, troubled childhood, drunks, domestic violence were the direct result… still happening today, as a direct result of being brought up in this type of housing. Even today, every hour a woman in the Russian Federation is beaten to death by [most of the time] her husband/boyfriend, and behaving rude and barbaric towards once neighbors is considered normal.

    Reply
  9. It’s funny but .. today in New York city.. (and I’m telling this to all you kids who do not know what New York city is) you will find studio apartments occupied by 5+ people, it is probably true that most of those people are illegal immigrants but.. there are some low life drunk to death with cheap wine american families that do that too.

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  10. I had heard about these and how bad they were from friends who were from Leningrad/SPB.
    But I never realized how filthy dirty and slum like they were/are!

    That must of been beyond difficult to have been forced to live with people who had such disgusting habits.

    It’s sad to see what was at one time nice beautiful homes trashed like this.

    Not all Russians are like this I know but what the Hell is wrong with those who find living like that acceptable?

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  11. gas heaters are great but due to the rising prices of petroleum, perhaps an electric heater might be a cheaper option*”*

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  12. When I studied in Saint Peterburg in 2010, we had a kommunalka style dormitory. We kept it clean as we had many Scandinavians, Germans and Dutch to make rules for other people. While we visited in a dormitory that was used by local Russian students it looked the same as these kommunalkas: Russian boys urinated to all around the toilet, kitchen was filthy, people did not have fridges in their rooms, showers looked awful! We were lucky to stay in a good dormitory in the city centre.

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    • Too bad the self sterilized Scandi, Germans, and Dutch are becoming extinct considering how wonderful and perfect they are, lol

      Reply

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