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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communal Flats: A Soviet Legacy

As Moscow continues to be flooded by Western life in the form of fast food, pop music and, most significantly, privatization, there is still one Soviet institution that very much remains: the communal apartment.


More than 1 Million or 12% of all Muscovites live in communal apartments today, mostly in the center of the city inside the Garden Ring.


Living conditions are cramped and privacy is a rare commodity.


In any other circumstances, the apartments would be considered prestigious and more than adequate; indeed, ideal for foreigners. A typical communal apartment includes five or more rooms, plus a kitchen and bathroom.


Although many of the people who live in communal apartments say they are unhappy and want out, archaic laws and economic realities make it almost impossible.


An average one-room apartment costs about 16 million rubles ($16, 000), far too steep a price for most Russians, let alone those living communally, to pay. This leaves many on a waiting list for their own apartments. The wait can take years.


Nina Zavarina, 45, lives in a seven-room apartment with six other people. She has lived in the apartment since 1980.


She came to Moscow from the Tambovsk region in 1964 to work in a textile factory and lived in a dormitory for 16 years. Zavarina's son Dima, 13, was born in the communal apartment. Zavarina is on a waiting list of those who were promised a free state apartment in 1986. They are ocheredniki, which literally means "people in line".


Some of those living in the apartment refused to be interviewed, but those that spoke told much the same story.


Elizaveta Ivanova, 73, has been living in the apartment since 1945. She says she has lost faith in waiting lists.


"I don't have any hope that I will get a private apartment in my life. I'm too old to wait any longer", she says.


Galina Yablokova, 42, has owned a room in the apartment since 1982. She, too, places little faith in the possibility of moving out.


"I was promised a flat at ZIL where I worked hard for 10 years but I didn't get anything except this room", she said bitterly.


They have two gas stoves in the kitchen and one table. Tenants cook their own meals in shifts. Nobody eats in the kitchen; they all retreat to their own private quarters.


The telephone was disconnected five years ago when nobody would pay long distance telephone bills accumulated by a former resident.


"Still, we don't live badly together", Yablokova says, sipping a cup of tea.


"But we live like we are in a prison", Zavarina adds.


It is difficult to say how long Moscow's communal apartment dwellers will have to wait for their own apartments. There are 218, 000 families, or 729, 000 tenants, from communal apartments on the waiting list for private apartments. At the same time, not all those living in communal apartments are on the waiting list. Some single elderly people prefer to live with neighbors and would not want to live alone.


Government officials say they are acting as swiftly as possible to help those who want to move.


"Ocheredniki will get 1 million square meters free this year", Oleg Ryabov, deputy chief of Moscow's planning department said. "That means 20, 000 families will get out of communal apartments. Most of them have been waiting for 10 or 12 years. We can't help people faster. Even if Yeltsin calls us and asks that certain people be helped we would be not able to do it".