Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 3. Apartment 30: 3. Anna Matveevna
  Ilya talks with an old woman who lives in a communal apartment. We see the kitchen, the room she lives in, and the hallway, and hear about her life during the war.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: Summer 2006

Where: The kitchen in a communal apartment in a building on Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg. Among the residents of this apartment are friends and acquaintances of Ilya. The apartment is in the same entryway as the one in which he lived for 30 years. Eleven families now (2006) live in the apartment. There was a time when 16 families lived there.

Who: 1) Ilya Utekhin. 2) Anna Matveevna (born 1914), living here since 1929. 3) Iraida Yakovlevna (in the red sweater), a retired janitor, who has been living here for 40 years. 4) Yulya (in the black t-shirt), who has lived here all her life. 5) Slawomir, who is filming.

After Anna Matveevna's father was killed in 1922, during the Civil War, her mother was left with five children. Anna Matveevna was taken in (as she says, "with room and board") by her distant relatives, whom she started helping with household chores. She came to this apartment in 1929, when she got work with a different family as a nanny. In 1931, her right to live in the apartment was affirmed officially: she was granted an occupancy permit, and became a full-fledged member of the apartment. That is why she says she has been living here since 1931.

The child this fifteen-year-old nanny was in charge of was Nina Vasilievna, born in 1924. They have lived together in this apartment practically all their lives.

What: The practice of inviting relatives and servants to move in to your space was widespread in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In this way, tenants about to be further crammed in because they had more than the officially allotted amount of space realized their "right to self-cramming"; that is, they sought co-tenants on their own, rather than receiving unknown neighbors assigned to them by the Housing Authority.

At the same time, getting work as a servant was the only realistic means that someone living in the country, overwhelmed by the poverty and hunger that followed collectivization, could secure a place in a better-fed and more livable city.

Anna Matveevna remembers the Siege of Leningrad and the numerous medals she was given for her participation in the Great Fatherland War (World War II).

Iraida Yakovlevna's ironic aside regarding Nina Vasilievna (what a lady, she's resting) refers to the lifestyle of Nina Vasilievna, which the old-timers, knowing the history of Anna Matveevna and Nina Vasilievna, can view as aristocratic habits (sleeping in the daytime and so forth). This is explained in clip Nina Vasilievna.

On the photograph shown in the clip (2:48) we see Anna Matveevna and Nina Vasilievna as young women.

At the end of the clip we hear a song on the radio. It is from the cartoon "The Blue Puppy," sung by the famous Soviet actor Andrey Mironov.

It is curious that everybody in the apartment is convinced that Anna Matveevna is over 100 years old. It may be supposed that filling out some document she gave her birth date as 1904 instead of 1914. An opportunity for doing this often arose when information was entered into the passport, Soviet society's primary document, from a birth certificate. If the birth certificate was lost, the information was entered according to what the individual said. People often took advantage of this moment to make themselves a little older (in certain situations this would be helpful).

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: What we're doing is making a film about our building.

Anna Matveevna: Oh?

Ilya: Tell us how long you have been living here. How many years?

À. Ì.: Since 1931.

Ilya: Since 1931?!

À. Ì.: Yes.

Ilya: Do you remember how you first came here?

À. Ì.: Yes I do. I was little when they brought me here, 8 years old. There were people I knew here, relatives, they took me in. Our father died, mother had 5 children, each one smaller than the next. They gave me room and board. And then I stayed. I went to school, and I grew up and so on, and I went to work.

Ilya: Were you here during the Siege?

À. Ì.: I was here. I worked in Clinic 32. I got my nursing certificate.

Ilya: Uh-huh...

À. Ì.: Yes! You should see how many medals I have! Because I was taking care of the wounded at the front, that's the phrase. My commander was a Russian, Sasha, and my heart was always breaking, I was always crying: I felt so sorry for them! Young pilots, and once one of them, one of the boys, told me "I learned airplanes at the front. To drive an airplane." And he ended up in a battle. He got wounded. So. He was crying, and I was crying.

Ilya: Were there a lot of people? A lot of tenants?

À. Ì.: No, very few. A lot of them died.

Ilya: Hello, Iraida Yakovlevna. So was Nina Vasilievna living here?

À. Ì.: Yes she was. Nina Vasilievna and me. She buried her father here.

Iraida Yakovlevna: I had a stroke, yes.

Ilya: How dreadful! When was that?

Iraida Yakovlevna: What do you mean? In January.

Ilya: We'll come to see you in a little while, okay?

Iraida Yakovlevna: Come, of course. Are you going to Nina's now?

Ilya: No, Nina's resting now, maybe...

Iraida Yakovlevna: Oh what a lady, what a lady, she's resting... She's tired out. From what?

À. Ì.: This is what we were like when we was young.

Ilya: Oh. You were so pretty! Did you always live in this room?

À. Ì.: In this room. In this room. And Nina was next door.

Ilya: Always? From the very beginning, when you first moved in?

À. Ì.: Yes. When I moved in, Grandma was still living, Nina's grandma. But then she died. Ilya: Who was Nina's grandma?

À. Ì.: Her own grandma. Not mine. She wasn't anybody to me.

Ilya: I see.

Ilya: Did everybody get along?

À. Ì.: We had a good apartment. Very good people. Very good. All college graduates. There was a family here. They had children, they had a maid. And they worked.

Ilya: Yes, you were very pretty. Very nice.

À. Ì.: Well, I was still very young. Very young. Maybe, forty.

Ilya: Well thank you. I've turned this off. Let me turn it on again, so you can hear.

Ilya: Who is this?

À. Ì.: This is my sister. And this is me. And this is my sister. She's no longer with us either.

Ilya: All right. I think we'll go see Nina Vasilievna now; let's go ask...

À. Ì.: She just got back from church. You know that today...

Ilya: She went to church?

À. Ì.: Do you go to church? It's a holiday, it's hard to explain...

À. Ì.: Nina, open the door! Get up, put on something warm.

Nina Vasilievna: It's cold, it's cold.

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