Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours
Tour 2. Where I Used to Live: 7. The Empty Room
  Summary
  Ilya shows the so-called "empty room" in his former apartment and talks about his former neighbors.
  Basic Facts and Background
  When: Summer 2006

Where: The communal storage room and hallway of an apartment in a five-story apartment building in the prestigious 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, in which he no longer lived. 2) "Auntie" Asya, who has lived in the apartment for over forty years; 3) Slawomir, who is filming.

What: In addition to this storage room, the apartment has a few other places where tenants can store objects they don't need all the time: the hallway; an open space on the roof of the building that they call the "veranda" (or "large balcony"), a small closet in the kitchen and a shelf in the lavatory.

Auntie Asya needed the folding bed because a relative was coming to stay for a few days. She knew that Ilya had one, possibly because she had seen it in the storage room.

This short video clip shows the same storage room as it was six year earlier.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Ilya: Now we'll take a look at the empty room, the storage room. We'll see if the folding cot is there that we have to give to Auntie Asya. It'll be good if we find it.

Auntie Asya: Hello. Yes?... Lenochka, hello. I recognized your voice, hello.

Ilya: The empty room. A storage room, where people put their old things, things they don't use every day. Every family has their own space. Our former space and our cabinet—that's what you're looking at here. Maybe some day we'll come get this cabinet, because everybody's restoring them now, and Milena has ideas on how to make it into something new. Actually it's practically empty, there are some old books in it. But this refrigerator simply has to be thrown out. So. Well, a lot of stuff here should be thrown out. My task is to find the folding cot for Auntie Asya.

Ilya: This is a terrific item. It's a very heavy brush for polishing the floor. This is how it... this is how people polished the parquet, when it was covered with floor polish. What this box is I have no idea. But I've almost found the folding cot. So... a stick... okay, we can consider that Auntie Asya has lucked out.

Ilya: Oh, here are my records! How do you like that—these are my records. I guess I'll take them with me. And over there are my records too. I'm going to have to take all these records. Only I have no way to play them.

Ilya: And this bicycle...a long time ago I bought it from some alcoholic, in the village of Martyshkino. But now it's also missing its wheels. Okay, I'll leave the records here. Our main goal is the folding cot.

Ilya: I know whose wheel this is. It belongs to one of our neighbors. What's it doing here? He's a confirmed drunk and couldn't ride a bicycle even if he had one. When he had guests, he used to beat them up. I remember one fight when I was little, well, a bloody fight makes an impression on children. And there are a few scenes I'll remember my whole life. Next to the telephone is a chair; when we go out there, I'll show you the chair. On that chair sat a guest of this guy, Kolya the Alcoholic, and he was all cut up from what's called a rose. That's when you take a bottle, an empty bottle, you break off the bottom and you get a rose, a sharp object to use in a fight. So he slashed his friend, and the friend started bleeding "like a slaughtered sheep," as the ambulance doctors said when they came. Really, there was a pool of blood on the floor, and that comparison "bleeding like a slaughtered sheep" really stuck in my memory. I thought: well, that's interesting, when you slaughter sheep, they also bleed. But it worked out okay, apparently he hadn't been slashed to death. Yes, that happened here, it happened next to the telephone. There's the chair, and on that chair... Probably it was a different chair then.

Ilya: But I have to say about this alcoholic that he wasn't very good to his mother either. Once he hit her, and after that for literally three months she stayed alive but couldn't leave her bed. So that was Marya Ivanovna, may she rest in peace, this was her room, somewhere here was her bed.

Ilya: The thing is that this room isn't a very good one because there's not a lot of light here; it's got one window and a very thin partition. This partition that separates the room from the hallway, it's very thin, and you can hear everything. When somebody talks on the telephone in the hallway, you can also hear everything. So it was designated unfit for habitation, and it fell into the category of general, communal space.

Ilya: Auntie Asya, I found the folding cot and put it next to your door. Everything is all right.

Auntie Asya: Thank you so much.

  Details in Photographs
  Photos of similar storage rooms in other apartments are shown in the photo Tour "Empty Rooms."
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/.