Communal Living in Russia: From Books
From Non-fiction: Stolen pork chops
  "Caught on webcam: a thief — and grim end of a Soviet dream." A report filed from Moscow by Nick Holdsworth of 2005.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Caught on webcam: a thief — and grim end of a Soviet dream

By Nick Holdsworth in Moscow and Colin Freeman

(Filed: 20/11/2005)

Like most modern Russians, Valery Fefelkin had long abandoned the old Marxist maxim that all property was theft. Except when it came to the fridge in his communal flat — which he greedily raided when everyone else was out.

So angry were his fellow residents that they resorted to KGB tactics, catching him red-handed on a secretly installed webcam and passing the tape to the police. But when the case came before a Moscow court last month, it highlighted more than just his woeful shortcomings as a flatmate.

Equally damning was its indictment of life in the kommunalki — the Soviet-era communal apartments where the crime was committed. Conceived 80 years ago by the Bolsheviks, the kommunalki epitomised the ideal of collective living - a block of several households with a shared bathroom and kitchen.

But like so many other Communist ideals, they were ill-designed for the less noble aspects of the human condition: long queues for the lavatory, paper-thin walls, and anti-social neighbours such as Fefelkin made them grim places to live.

His case has highlighted how the kommunalki, once the ultimate in proletarian chic, have slipped to the very bottom rung of the property ladder since Russians acquired the right to buy and sell their homes a decade ago.

The unmasking of Fefelkin, 49, came as no surprise to the six other residents of Apartment 330, Simferopolsky Proezd Block No 3, in Moscow's Chertanovsky district. An unemployed drunkard who lived alone, he typified the feckless kommunalki loafer satirised in We Have Everyone At Home, a television comedy dedicated to Soviet-era nostalgia.

Puzzled by the disappearance of more than 10lb of pork chops worth 1,075 roubles (£22.50) from their part of the fridge, a young couple, Andrei and Maria Osipov, rigged up a web camera before they left town for a few days.

Fefelkin later claimed to the police that he had drunkenly mistaken the couple's pork chops for his own. But the footage showed him carefully wiping his fingerprints off the fridge door with a towel. He was convicted of theft and sentenced to a year's community service.

[Quoted in full from, with permission.]

For credits, copyright, and contact information please see the "About" page at Communal Living in Russia: A Virtual Museum of Soviet Everyday Life,