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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Privileged Life of a Street Cleaner

For Andrei Ignatyev, cleaning streets is a way to keep fit; more importantly it earns him the right to a 25-square-meter room across from the mayor's office in central Moscow. Ignatyev's supervisor Larisa Kovalevskaya, said Wednesday the district maintenance agency employs about 70 dvorniki, or street cleaners. With an average salary of 200,000 rubles ($100) a month, half the cleaners agreed to take the jobs only in return for accommodation. Most are occupying their flats illegally, Kovalevskaya says. They do not pay rent, or for electricity or gas, but they do keep the area clean. "When the mayor's office demanded that we evict the cleaners several years ago, we said, 'If you don't want to drown in litter you shouldn't interfere,' and they left the cleaners alone," she said. Ignatyev, 27, a graduate of Moscow University journalism school, has lived in the room on Tverskaya Ulitsa for the last four years. He makes a living by running a small trade firm, but the income is far from enough to rent a place in one of the city's most prestigious areas. The work of cleaning streets around the block takes Ignatyev between 1 1/2 hours in summer and 14 hours a day in winter when it is snowing heavily. "Some people make the effort of going out to jog, some go to the gym, I exercise with a broom and a shovel," Ignatyev said. He is allowed to live in the room as long as he keeps exercising, Ignatyev said. Quitting the job would automatically lead to his eviction. Back in the Soviet era, when Muscovites avoided unqualified jobs, most cleaners came from the provinces in search of a propiska, or residence permit, said Avtandil Iordanov, head of maintenance agency No. 5 in central Moscow. Salaries were low, but after 10 years of cleaning, a worker gained the right of residence and a flat which he could keep after leaving the job. The practice was officially stopped in central Moscow in 1988 when the city authorities decided to stop the flood of outsiders to the capital, according to Iordanov. However, when Moscow residents began applying for the jobs, many of them turned out to need a flat, too. The housing regulations still provide for 2 percent of apartments to be reserved for cleaners and other maintenance workers, but when maintenance agencies asked the city to allocate more flats, the housing department denied the request, citing shortages of venues. But Iordanov alleged new flats are denied to them because the administration prefers selling or renting space at market prices rather than giving them away free. The agency is about 30 percent short of staff as a result, Iordanov said. "It is hard to persuade people to handle dirt for anything less than a flat," he said. In the suburbs, however, cleaners still enjoy the privilege of free accommodation which they can privatize after working for three to 10 years, depending on the area. Maxim Balutenko, 24, who arrived from Kiev to study history said this week he was about to begin sweeping streets near Varshavskoye Shosse in southern Moscow. After eight years in the job he said he would become the owner of a one-room flat which would now cost at least $20,000.