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In Saint Petersburg, residents stuck in Soviet ‘kommunalkas’

Marina Koreneva -

In Saint Petersburg’s largest communal apartment, people barely talk to each other. Living conditions here are dismal and most residents dream of leaving the place for good.

Located in the centre of the former imperial capital, the “kommunalka” flat occupies the entire ground floor of a building, with 34 rooms coming off a corridor almost 330 feet long.

Once a part of Soviet life, communal apartments have all but died out in modern Russia — apart from Saint Petersburg, where tens of thousands remain stuck in the falling-apart spaces.

“No person should have to live in these conditions,” said Rosa, a 50-year-old resident of the brick building on Detskaya Street.

Until recently, around 100 people lived in the communal space here and queues to use the showers or toilet were a common sight.

Today, about a dozen people occupy the apartment and the building constructed in 1958 is falling into disrepair.

Worst of all, Rosa said, is that “the doors to the entrance are always open so anyone can just walk in from the street.”

From the outside, the four-storey building, originally designed to house doctors, seems in a good state.

The upper floors have been turned into traditional apartments. But in the 1980s, the lower level became a “kommunalka” when the doctors’ offices moved out of the area.

“We rented two rooms here because it wasn’t too expensive,” said Rosa, who moved to Saint Petersburg from the North Caucasus city of Pyatigorsk to help her daughter with her child.

“I hope we’ll be able to move out soon.”

Renting one room in the communal flat costs up to 5-6,000 rubles a month.

Communal apartments appeared in Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution amid an acute housing crisis.

Flats that formerly belonged to wealthy Russians were used to house workers and peasants who had moved to cities, with the original owners usually confined to a single room.

In the 1980s, some 40 per cent of housing in the centre of Leningrad — as the city was then known — was communal.

But when the Soviet Union collapsed, many of these apartments were bought by affluent Russians, and in 2008, a programme was introduced to rehouse those still living in “kommunalkas”.

However, around 83,000 still live in such accommodation in the city of five million people. — AFP

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