Video Tours > Tour 3. Apartment 30 > 5. A Room for Her Daughter
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A conversation with a former janitor about her life and how she got her rooms.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Ilya: Iraida Yakovlevna, may I come in? I forgot that the handle goes up.

Iraida Yakovlevna: Come in!

Ilya: Can we turn off the television? Otherwise, our voices won't be heard.

I.Ya.: So, I've been living here for forty years. Forty years already.

Ilya: Forty?

I.Ya.: Forty. Well Natasha was... you know my daughter. She was in day care when I moved here, I moved here from the Nevsky District.

Ilya: I see.

I.Ya.: I moved here, I got this room.

Ilya: What was here when you first came here?

I.Ya.: Decent people.

Ilya: A lot of them?

I.Ya.: Almost as many as we have now. Now we also have a lot.

Ilya.: Did people get along? Were they friendly?

I.Ya.: How should I put it? It was all right, it was decent. We had a good apartment, a decent apartment. Usually there wasn't any yelling, and we didn't have any drunks, we didn't have any thieves, the neighbors were all decent people.

Ilya: You had a job here as a janitor?

I.Ya.: That's right

Ilya: With the housing office.

I.Ya.: Yes.

Ilya: Was it hard work?

I.Ya.: Oh, you bet, things were different then. I worked for seven years in the Nevsky District, seven, I think. And I worked here nine years. That's the story. And then my turn came to get housing, and I got this room, this one and the other... now I have two rooms.

Ilya: Oh. I had no idea.

I.Ya.: Two rooms. You had to work for ten years, and have ten years residence.

Ilya: I see.

I.Ya.: Ten years. When I had permanent residence and had worked ten years, at that point I got on the list, the city list. But the list worked all right then. I was on the list for five years.

Ilya: And that's how you got the second room..

I.Ya.: Yes, that's how. We had an empty room in the apartment here, and my daughter was 14, I think. When I got to the city bureau, I told them, "you know, we have an empty room, why can't I have that one?" So she says "Of course, what do I care? Your apartment is a really big one." So. Yes. "Except," she says, "you're going to have a lot of square meters. Right now you have 24, and that room is 20."

Ilya: For two people, that exceeds the legal norm.

I.Ya.: Yes. So. "Fine," she says, "What do I care, the more so that it's happening in such a big apartment." So. Anyway, it looked like she was allowing it, this woman, she says, "This month," she says, "the committee's going to meet— that's when I was standing there—"and I," she says, "will ask them if this can be done or not." And less than a week later, they already sent me a notice: come and fill out the forms for the room. So that's the story, that's how I got the room.

Ilya: Were you ever asked to exchange your rooms for a new apartment, to split up the apartment?

I.Ya.: I have no interest in a private apartment, because what would I do there—die? I have no interest in a private apartment, but of course my daughter does. She says, "Mama, if someone proposes something, I would like a studio apartment." I say, "fine." Sometimes people come to talk about breaking up the apartment. And this is what I say. I say, "She wants a studio, and I want a room, you know, a room in a communal apartment, only one with all the facilities, like a bathroom. Two or three other tenants, no more. But you know really this is all right. I've always lived in this collective farm here. As long as I've been in the city this is how I've lived. There's no reason for me to make trouble for anyone. I'm alone, there's no need for me to make trouble. Especially since my daughter won't be living with me. So. No, I'm not interested in my own apartment, though my daughter needs a studio. But nothing's working out. Right now she's got, she's living in a three-room apartment.

Ilya: I see.

I.Ya.: The two of them just bought a car together.

Ilya: They don't have children?

I.Ya.: No children. So you see. None. It's a big problem, that she has no children. She, you know, you know the store in Peace Square, there's a store there, Velikie Luki.

Ilya: Haymarket Square?

I.Ya.: Yes, that's the one. You come out of the metro, and you see it right away. That's what it's called, in red letters. I was only there once. She works there.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
Apartment II floor plan
Floor plan of the apartment from Tour 3 (all clips), home to Sasha, Yulia, Tatyana, Iraida Yakovlevna, Anna Matveevna, Nina Vasilievna, Sonya, and Savva. 2006.

Mirror, lamp, icon
The decor in Iraida Yakovlevna's room (she appears in the clip "A Room For Her Daughter," in Tour 3), includes an icon and a photograph of an actress from an illustrated magazine. 2006.

Sideboard, photographs
A sideboard with dishes for special occasions, knickknacks and family photographs, in the room of former janitor Iraida Yakovlevna, seen in the clip "A Room For Her Daughter" from Tour 3. 2006.

Bowl, jar, medicine, eyeglasses
A table (and items on it), in the room of the elderly woman featured in the clip "A Room For Her Daughter," Tour 3. 2006.

Iraida Yakovlevna
Former janitor Iraida Yakovlevna (shown in the clip "A Room for Her Daughter" from Tour 3). The carpets on the walls are a typical decorating touch. 2006.

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

Where: A room in a communal apartment in a building on Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg. Among the residents are friends and acquaintances of Ilya. The apartment is in the same entryway as the one in Ilya 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) Iraida Yakovlevna, a former janitor, who has been living here for forty years. 3) Slawomir, who is filming.

What: The "legal norm" that Ilya refers to is the minimum number of square meters of living space permissible for an individual; if you were below minimum, you could apply for an improvement in living conditions.

The city bureau ("ispolkom") that Iraida mentions is the district administration that handled housing issues.

Iraida came to Leningrad from a rural area in the early 1960s and got a job as a janitor in the industrial Nevsky region. At that point she still did not have either permanent residency or a room of her own and settled, most likely, for temporary and unpleasant housing in a dormitory. Like many people who wanted to live in the relatively comfortable city of Leningrad, she accepted a difficult, low-prestige, and poorly paying job because it came with the right of temporary residence in the city with the possibility of remaining permanently. Her janitor's job came with a room—the very room we see in this video; in this room she would live with her husband and daughter.

Iraida got her second room through the housing list by using her status as janitor, which came with the right to additional space. Until her daughter grew up and got married, Iraida rented the room to people living in her apartment (she doesn't mention this). Now her daughter lives with her latest husband in an apartment of their own, and Iraida rents the room to a young man named Denis (we see him briefly in the kitchen). When her daughter says that in the event the apartment is broken up, she wants a studio apartment, what she has in mind is quite clear: even if she herself will not live there, she can rent it out.

Iraida presents her life in the apartment as a success story, in which even the housing authority is ready to help her. She sees the early years in the apartment as a nice community of peaceful neighbors. In a paradoxical way she may genuinely believe this, even when, for example, she says "we had no alcoholics." However, she herself rented a room to the family of a policeman who was an alcoholic, and who would periodically lie across the hallway floor and sing at the top of his lungs, which is how old residents of the apartment remember him. Everybody also saw her daughter and her daughter's first husband boozing it up.

Iraida's trajectory in life is an example of how an individual could use paths available in Soviet society to foster social mobility.

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