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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interiors: After 6 Flats, She Still Has Not Settled In

By Genine Babakian


"These living quarters are just temporary," says Rachel Mays apologetically as she opens the door to her one-room apartment near Taganskaya. "I just can't put my foot down and make the move to a more permanent space."

Even though Mays, 27, has been living in Russia on and off since 1987, moving to a more comfortable flat means making a long-term commitment to Moscow -- something she is not ready to do. As the expatriate representative of the women's healthcare partnership between Pittsburgh's Magee and Moscow's Savior hospitals, she plans to stay until the center opens its model birth house later this year.

Her Taganka apartment may be cramped. It may be overfurnished with unwanted belongings left behind by the landlord. It may feature a representative sampling of Soviet wallpaper -- from fake brick to floral bouquet. But Mays says it is a considerable step up from some of the places she has lived in over the past seven years.

In one of her first Soviet apartments the kitchen was black from a recent fire. She was kicked out of another by the landlord's friends, who dropped by one night and decided they wanted the place for themselves.

But fires and evictions were nothing compared to life in a communal flat -- the nadir of Mays' Russian housing experience. Shortly before getting married here in 1989, Mays lived in a three-room flat with her husband, Andrei, and two complete strangers. One, the least offensive of the two, Mays says, was an 80-year-old alcoholic who used to hit them up for vodka money.

The second neighbor was also no stranger to the bottle. Her husband was in prison for murdering someone in the very same flat, and she had a steady stream of boyfriends parading in and out. "She had these two huge German shepherds she used to wash in the bathtub and then not clean up afterwards."

After housing experiences such as these, Mays' Taganskaya flat seems positively luxurious. "I've come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty adaptable person," says Mays. "I can exist in almost any environment." True Confessions

Most offensive thing about her apartment: The old blue couch. "It's broken and horribly stained with lots of weird things stored under it."

Number of Moscow apartments she's lived in: Six. She noted ruefully that probably it would have been better to have shelled out the money to get a better place to begin with.

Number of flats she's been kicked out of: Two. "The last place we got kicked out of the landlady decided we were using too much electricity."

Hardest thing to get used to living in Moscow: Not having a permanent place to live. "I feel like I'm always on the run."

Her contribution to the flat: A calico cat named Alisa, and an Egyptian bed. "My husband managed to acquire the bed somewhere, and the cat we got for free at the market."