Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 2. Where I Used to Live: 8. Partition
  In his former room, Ilya shows a tiny balcony and explains room partitioning.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: Summer 2006

Where: The hallway, a room, and the courtyard of a five-story apartment building in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg. At the time of filming, eight families lived in the apartment.

Who: 1) Ilya Utekhin, who lived in the apartment for around thirty years. At the time of filming, he still had a room here, which we see. 2) Sveta, a former graduate student, who has been renting the room for over two years under very advantageous conditions; 3) Slawomir, who is filming.

What: In 1924, this entire eleven-room apartment was given to Ilya's great-grandfather, Vikenty Cherezov, a Party economic manager who was arrested in 1937 for ties to Kamenev and Zinoviev, and died in the Gulag in 1938. Other families were gradually moved into the apartment and eventually the Cherezovs were left with this single room. In the 1960s, when the apartment had over fifty tenants, six people were living in this room.

Almost all the furniture here belongs to Ilya. The dishes on display belonged to his grandmother Elizaveta. The books and other contemporary items are Sveta's.

The partitions were removed two months before filming, in connection with a government inspection prior to privatization. A renovation (organized and paid for by the room's owners, which puts it into a different category from spaces like the kitchen, controlled by the housing administration) was scheduled for the summer.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: Sveta? Hi!

Ilya: There are a lot of original things in this room. This is from right after the October revolution. No, after the February one, but before October, I suspect. These locks, and this door. I'm opening the door; it's pretty much an antique; it's scraping the floor.

Ilya: The courtyard is completely different now. There used to be two enormous poplars which filled the space, first of all because of their poplar fluff in June, and second because of the wild cawing of crows that had their nests there. Both of these poplars were cut down. And this balcony here seemed large to me.

Ilya: On the ceiling you can see the traces of partitions. Here was one partition that had a door in it, and here was another one. First it had a curtain in it; then they put up a door. Of course originally there wasn't anything here, no partitions at all, this was just one big room. It was home to six or seven of my relatives.

Ilya: The way it was supposed to work was, in order to put up a partition you had to write a formal request, in order to get permission. Imagine the situation: you are living with your husband, you have a child, and so forth. And then the two of you divorce. Your husband has his life and you have yours. The only thing dividing you is a screen. You need a partition. But you need permission, and it has to be by mutual agreement. Now, it could be that your husband wants a partition and you don't, and he dreams of building what he calls a domestic barrier. A domestic defense wall, that's a partition. He has to get permission to put it up and to ask for materials... there are rules that say what it can be built of. It can be, maybe, cardboard, maybe wood, whatever; all of this has to be indicated. An engineer has to sign and approve it.

Ilya: Okay, goodbye, Sveta! Nice to see you!

Ilya: All the best! Thank you! You're probably cold!

Sveta: Uh-uh.

Ilya: That door over there is our service entrance. You remember that dirty back staircase? Here's its door. And right there, there used to be a collection point for empty bottles. Empty beer bottles, vodka bottles, well, milk bottles also. Children were let out to play in the courtyard, and mothers would yell from their kitchen windows: Come home right this minute!

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