Video Tours > Tour 2. Where I Used to Live > 3. Who Pays and Cleans?
expand/collapse this text box Summary
In the apartment where he used to live, Ilya explains the cleaning arrangements and payments for utilities and shows the service stairwell.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Ilya: This powerful bulb with its reflector was put in so at least there would be light to cook with. In the kitchen on the floor beneath us they don't have anything like this and it's unpleasant; here it's a lot lighter. Here there's more light. We're a little higher up. So it's more pleasant.

Slawomir: What's it like in the winter? How is it heated?

Ilya: It's warm because there are radiators here. The only problem is that these windows aren't very good. The frames are old, and there are drafts. So we have to plug them up. And over there the glass is broken, so… Good afternoon!

Ilya: The heating bill is part of the rent. I think that every month for the room, the gas, and the heat they pay around 900 rubles. It depends on the size of the room. It could be less. Plus they pay for electricity. Here are the names of the tenants; here are the meter readings: new readings, old readings. If we subtract the old reading from the new one we get the difference: how many kilowatt-hours of electricity have just been used. For the private rooms, that number is 642. For common rooms, 208. This sum is divided among the rooms in proportion to the number of people in each room, and after that the payment is calculated.

Ilya: In addition, in addition there's the payment for the telephone. Here's what they owe in total for the telephone: 300 rubles. It's divided by the number of people who use the telephone. And then there's a general sum to collect from everybody. Here for some reason they had to collect 70 rubles for something in the apartment: maybe a faucet was fixed or something was bought. And these 70 rubles are divided up. If a room has four people, they owe twenty. Where there's one person, they pay five. And that's how the monthly payment gets calculated.

Ilya: And over here is the chart of who's on duty when. Every week somebody is on duty, somebody is responsible for maintaining cleanliness in the apartment. Usually that gets divided this way: if you have a family of three, you serve three weeks; if there are two of you, say a husband and wife, then you serve two weeks.

Ilya: Being on duty means that you sweep the floor in the corridor and the kitchen, you wash the floor here as necessary, usually maybe two or three times. Nowadays people take the garbage out themselves; it used to be that the person on duty took it out, took it out for everybody. And now everybody carries out their own bags. It used to be, when there wasn't linoleum here, if you look here under the linoleum you can even see it, there was parquet. And the parquet would be polished. With floor polish. Polishing the floor was part of the job. In addition, the person on duty has to maintain cleanliness in the bathroom and the lavatory also.

Ilya: Here there used to be... Basically this is the exit to the back staircase. There used to be two garbage pails here, general ones, belonging to the apartment. Do you remember the pails here, Auntie Asya?

Auntie Asya: Yes I do.

Ilya: The person on duty had to carry these pails out. This closes on a hook, right? I'm unhooking it, and now we are coming out onto the back staircase.

Ilya: Over here there were other pails, belonging to a number of apartments; these were for food scraps, that's where you would throw away bits of food. Well, now this is all gone. Now that system of separating garbage doesn't exist any more. And here's something very new: antenna feeds. Cats always lived here and they still do.

Ilya: Nobody really uses this back staircase anymore. Maybe somebody uses it to take out garbage… It's dirty, and there are homeless people and cats living here. Now it's not so bad, it used to be that the district policeman would be afraid to come up because the stairs were full of excrement. From people and from cats.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
Apartment I floor plan
Floor plan of the apartment from Tours 1-2 (all clips), home to "auntie" Asya, Ekaterina Sergeevna, Masha, Sveta, and Natasha. 2006.

Documents crucial to the life of the apartment
The common-area cleaning schedule and lists tallying electricity and phone payments are usually posted in the kitchen. Apartment from Tours 1 and 2. 2006.

Common area cleaning schedule
The common area cleaning schedule is posted on the kitchen wall. It mentions "newcomers," among other residents. Apartment from Tours 1 and 2. 2007.

A partial view of the kitchen
A partial view of the kitchen, showing a broom and dustpan and the door to the back staircase. Apartment from Tours 1 and 2. 1998.

Service entrance
The door to the back stairs, with a hook, commonly found in such spots, serving as a lock. Ilya is shown opening this door in the clip "Who Pays and Cleans?", Tour 2. 2007.

Service stairwell ceiling
The service stairwell of the building from Tours 1, 2, and 3 has a new plastic pipe, new cable antennas and telephone wires. Fluorescent bulbs installed at one time have not been used in a while. Instead, a naked bulb illuminates the stairwell. 2007.

The back staircase leads to the courtyard
We see Ilya go out onto this back staircase in the clip "Who Pays and Cleans?" from Tour 2. 2007.

expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: Summer 2006

Where: The kitchen and back staircase of a communal apartment in a five-story apartment building in the high-status 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, though he no longer lived in it. 2) A new tenant, Nikolay, who doesn't know Ilya (0:50); 3) "Auntie" Asya, who has lived in this apartment over forty years (3:50); 4) Slawomir, who is filming.

What: In a communal kitchen, all the stoves, water heaters, pipes, and so forth belong to the government, as does the apartment itself. The responsibility for the cleanliness of the floors, surfaces, and stoves is shared by the tenants. Repairs are done by the local housing authority, but tenants sometimes have to collect money for the purchase of household items like brooms, pails, and the like, and for paying plumbers and other repairmen.

The only sink in the apartment is the one we see here. If tenants want to wash their hands after using the lavatory, they either use this sink or the bathtub in the bathroom.

On the floor we see plastic containers of spring water, bought at the store. In general, people in communal apartments keep water in case the water in the apartment is shut off. This happens fairly often, because the pipes are worn out and need frequent repair, and in order to repair them the water is shut off either in the entire building or in part of it. However, spring water is not simply an alternative to tap water, but a mark of concern about health. People who don't have the money to buy water (or the strength to carry home containers from the store) filter the tap water.

The sum of 900 rubles mentioned by Ilya would have been equivalent to about $35 at the exchange rate of the time, approximately one-sixth of the average monthly salary of a communal-apartment resident. In Soviet times, the cost of utilities and rent would rarely have exceeded one-tenth of the family budget.

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