Video Tours > Tour 8. Stories and Thoughts > We're Like One Big Family
expand/collapse this text box Summary
A woman who has spent her whole life in communal apartments explains why she likes it.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Ekaterina Sergeevna: So, when we moved to this apartment in 1971, there were 33 people here. There were people living in every room, it was very lively. Gradually it thinned out. Some people died, other people got new places to live, and now there are probably 23 of us. Yes.

Å.S.: What can I say, there were some very interesting people living in this apartment. Right across from me was an utterly unique woman, she was a librarian in a psychiatric hospital, but she was very erudite, educated, she had an enormous number of books in... in her little room, and was very eccentric. She never went into the kitchen, except to get water. She didn't use any gas and she didn't use the bathroom. Everything she had was electric. She had an electric teapot, and electric pots, in general everything she used was electric. She did use the toilet. But not the bathroom, ever. She was very old, 83, when she died.

Å.S.: Well, in the next room over there was Marya Ivanna with her son, but...

Lena: There was some horrible story connected with...

Å.S.: Yes. This son turned out really badly, he was in prison a number of times, and in the end he fell asleep, drunk, on the couch and the couch went up in flames. They threw it out the window, because there was no way to put the fire out. After that he went to prison, and since his mother had died before, before this, the room didn't have anyone registered in it, and so he was left without a place to live. When he got out, he went to live with his ex-wife, and that's where he is now.

Lena: And when you moved in, what did they tell you about the history of the apartment?

Å.S.: About the history... Well, that they wanted to give this apartment to the architect Krichinsky, who drew the plans for the building. I think that's the story. Here is where his study was supposed to go, and the room next to it should have been the library. Where Natasha is now was the large parlor and your room was the smaller one. Next to that was a room for serving coffee, and there was a room off the kitchen for the cook. Later they gave her a regular room and they took down the partition and the kitchen kind of expanded. Can you imagine, there were 55 people here, and the kitchen was only 15 square meters. There was an incredible ruckus, especially when the electric and gas bill came, and it had to be divided up—that was something to see. Well, eventually everybody got their own electric meters, and there were fewer and fewer people, so things quieted down.

Lena: How many generations of your family have lived in Petersburg?

Å.S.: I've lived here all my life, all my life. I even was born...

Lena: And your mother also?

Å.S.: And my mother... Actually, my mother was from Odessa, but she came here a long time ago, when she was around 25, and she lived in Petersburg for 60 years. My father was a real Leningrader, a Petersburger. We come from an old noble family, the Ryumins. My mother was a Polar Explorer, and my father also. I was born in the Far North House, 53 Vosstania Street. All the families there were like one big family. We were good friends, and children went to each other's birthday parties, because all the parents worked for the same organization, they all went on Far North expeditions, it was a very interesting life.

Lena: Why did you move here?

Å.S.: We did a room exchange. I got divorced, I was left with two children, and my mother and I put our two rooms together and moved here.

Lena: How many years would you say you have spent in kommunalkas?

Å.S.: All my life. All my life. I was born in a kommunalka. Of course there we had a three-family apartment, and then I lived on Petr Lavrov Street, there were nine tenants, and here there are 11. So, my whole life.

Lena: And every time a bigger one.

Å.S.: Yes, yes, my whole life.

Lena: I see. And where is it better to live, in a new district in your own little apartment or despite everything...

Å.S.: Yes, I like living here very much.

Lena: Since the film won't have my question, you should answer in a full sentence. Is it better to live in a kommunalka in the center of the city than in a private apartment in a new district?

Å.S.: It's better to live in a communal apartment, a large one, in this kind of, in a historic district, a historic Petersburg district, than in a housing complex.

Lena: Why?

Å.S.: There's some kind of disconnection, life is more boring. I don't know, it seems to me that people there are completely different. Everybody is on their own. And here we're like one big family. If someone is in trouble, it gets shared. Or a joy, you share that too. Today one person will be in a bad mood, and tomorrow it will be a different person. We somehow neutralize each other, and it works out very well.

Lena: I see.

Å.S.: I like it. I love this apartment. I do. The bathroom has its problems, but we put up with everything. Of course, your own apartment is a good thing, but if I had to choose the lesser of two evils, then this is better.

Lena: I understand. Thank you.

expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: 2000

Where: A large communal apartment in a prestigious district of St. Petersburg. Fifty-five people once lived here; now there are 23.

Who: Ekaterina Sergeevna, one of the apartment's oldest residents, who can be seen in the Tours "Where Daddy Used to Live" and "Where I Used to Live," as well as in the clip "Quail Farm." We see her in a red beret in the clips "Hallway & Kitchen" and "The Roof Garden" (Tour 1). Lena Utekhina does the interviewing.

What: E.S. ended up in this apartment with her two children as a result of an apartment exchange she undertook after her divorce. Apartment exchanges are discussed in the essay about ownership and the distribution of city housing in the Soviet Union.

Apartment meetings devoted to calculating the electric bill devolved into a ruckus because there was only one meter for the apartment. Until each family got an individual electric meter, it was hard for tenants to agree on how to divide the bill in accordance with their particular notions of justice. See also the essay about paying for electricity.

The building's architect, Stepan Samoilovich Krichinsky (1874-1923) did indeed live in the apartment the last two years of his life.

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