Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 2. Where I Used to Live: 1. Stairwell
  Summary
  Ilya walks up the stairs in the building where he used to live and talks about the elevator, graffiti, doorbells, and drug addicts.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: Summer 2006

Where: The stairwell of a five-story apartment building in the prestigious historical center of St. Petersburg.

Who: 1) Ilya Utekhin, who lived in an apartment on this stairwell for around thirty years. At the time of filming, he still had a room here in an apartment on the fifth floor. 2) Slawomir, who is filming.

Although Ilya says he was born in this building, he was, like most Russians, born in a hospital.

What: In this section of the Tour we see a combination of past beauty and present ruin—a consequence of communal living—that is seen with some frequency in St. Petersburg. The building was constructed between 1913 and 1918, when this high-status district was being rebuilt in art nouveau style, and architects competed with one another in their inventiveness. Soon after the Revolution of 1917, most of the apartments became communal, as several families were moved into each one. The condition of the staircase is the responsibility of the local housing authority, not the tenants.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: Well, I was born in this building. It's interesting that here on the walls, there's a lot of graffiti on them although actually... Actually this is artificial marble. You know? Artificial marble. A mixture of gypsum powder and dye. The graffiti here appeared quite recently, sometime in the mid-fifties, when the night shift was eliminated for the building janitors. The entrance was no longer locked, and anyone could get in. At that time people weren't yet urinating in the stairwells, but they did write on the walls. "Nina was here November 23, 1965." "Here stood two happy and yet unhappy people." They had nowhere to go. If they could have found a place to be happy in, they would have had their full quota of happiness.

Ilya: My grandmother used to tell us that there were carpets on the stairs, runners. Also, the elevator that you see now is not the original one, it's new. I remember the old one—it was very big. First, it worked on a schedule, and second, it had an elevator operator who pressed the buttons. It was huge. I still remember that there were mirrors in the elevator. Then they disappeared somewhere, probably somebody broke all of them. But the old elevator was incredibly beautiful.

Ilya: You can't get the elevator from the second floor, it doesn't work, so let's use the stairs. Really, because if we get stuck it's not going to be good; we'll sit here all day.

Ilya: This building is…they started construction in 1913, and finished right after the revolution, that is, in 1918 they finished putting in the final touches. So soon the building will be a hundred years old. Yes, 95.

Ilya: A while ago we had a big problem here: a young man was living in this apartment, he was selling drugs. The people who were living there were terribly upset. Sometimes they called the police. Addicts still use the stairwell to shoot up. I myself saw at least two people die right here. On the staircase landing after they injected themselves. A few years ago the dealer went off somewhere, but his mother still lives here.

Ilya: And here is where my friends live. We'll definitely go visit them today. They have a very nice apartment with high ceilings.

Ilya: Look how many doorbells there are… Here every family has their own doorbell, and now if we look at the other side, we'll see the apartment doorbell: so if you want to get into the apartment without using the family doorbells, but using the apartment one, you have to ring a specific number of times. If you want the Ivanovs, you ring once; if you want the Petrovs, twice, the Sidorovs, three times, and now if you want the Lupovs, six. One, two, three, four, five, six, and then the Lupovs will come out and open the door. As a result every time the bell rings everybody listens to see how many times. They count up to six, and they don't let in other people's guests.

For credits, copyright, and contact information please see the "About" page at Communal Living in Russia: A Virtual Museum of Soviet Everyday Life, http://russlang.as.cornell.edu/komm/.