Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 6. Thefts and Losses: 3. Twenty Keys
  A young woman tells about how someone stole keys and got inside the apartment.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: 2006

Where: A large apartment in a prestigious neighborhood in the center of St. Petersburg. Twenty people live here.

Who: Lena, who has lived in the apartment around six years; Ilya, an anthropologist, doing the interview; Slawomir, who is filming.

What: Since a large apartment has many people in it, someone will usually notice an outsider. People can find out whose guest this is (the usual question is "Who did you come to [see])?" In the Soviet period, thieves rarely tried to rob large communal apartments precisely because they knew they would be seen. That is one reason why residents of some large apartments did not lock their main door. In the post-perestroika period the situation has changed. Lena talks about a bolt on the door. She has in mind a bolt that can be set only from the inside. A bolt, like a hook or a door chain, protects against intruders who could force a lock. An inside bolt can only be used under two conditions: first, if someone is always in the apartment who can recognize other residents by voice and, second, if it is possible to ascertain, late at night, that everyone is home. When they leave, residents have to ask someone to bolt the door behind them.

Since the back staircase is used less frequently than the front one, it usually only has a hook or a bolt.

The young woman Dasha, who comes up in Lena's story, is also mentioned at the start of the clip "Kamila, Lena, and Yulya" from the Tour "Our Neighbors"; as Galya, one of the other residents, puts it, Dasha's guests "spread their filth on everything."

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Lena: Somebody managed to break into the apartment... Yes, it happened, so we changed...

Ilya: The front door?

Lena: Yes. That's why we changed the keys. I came home and right at me, from out of our open door came an utterly crazed person, with glassy eyes. He nearly knocked me over and ran downstairs, not using the elevator. So when I came inside I, of course, asked Dasha, our neighbor, a young woman, if she didn't have visitors who were leaving the apartment in that kind of state. She said, "I don't know, I also tried to find out whose guest that was. He was here for a long time hanging out in the hallway." So it turned out he was some kind of stranger, who went through our apartment, looked in all the coat pockets, and took Vitaly's keys. They were the keys to the apartment, I mean, apartment keys and some keys he had from work. Whenever someone came out into the hallway, he ducked into the lavatory. People said that "someone was in the toilet for an awfully long time." So he hung out in the toilet and then he came out the way I said and nearly knocked me down. That's the story.

Lena: As a result, when people starting asking just whose guest that was, in that kind of state, it turned out that he wasn't anybody's. People started checking their things, and then it turned out that he took the keys. That's the story. And everybody started paying attention. The next day (for the night we have a bolt) we decided to use it in the daytime too. So the very next day around noon, when everyone was home, somebody tried to get in, but the bolt was on, and when we asked who was there, you could hear these footsteps racing down the stairs. So that was our detective story.

Ilya: Ahhh.

Lena: We had to replace the keys very quickly, and that was a challenge, because there are a lot of people, we had to make a lot of them at once.

Ilya: How many, Lena?

Lena: We made twenty.

  Details in Photographs
  The service entrance with its two hooks and the note on the inside of the front door belong to a different apartment. Next to the note you can see traces of an older bolt and another peephole.
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