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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quest for the Propiska Grail

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My jobless friend Kolya, a native of Krasnoyarsk, came up with a pretty ingenious scheme to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a fully fledged Muscovite.

From his youth, Kolya, like any Russian with a craving to tap into the best the country has to offer, knew that he had to live in Moscow. So when he got out of the army, he jumped on a train for the capital and began looking for a way to get a propiska, or residency permit. He found it in the form of school.

A vocational school, facing the threat of not filling its quota for plumbing students, readily accepted Kolya and put him up in a dormitory. Five years later, Kolya, as uninterested as ever in plumbing, graduated and found another school scrambling to meet its quota for tile layers.

After another five years, Kolya was qualified for two occupations he had no desire to follow.

He took a job as a street cleaner, delighted with the room in a communal apartment and propiska that came with it. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, he eventually lost both the job and the room and was forced to move to the Moscow region. There, he had the good fortune of being able to reside in a two-room apartment presented by the government to his father, a World War II veteran living in Krasnoyarsk.

But the apartment, located two hours north of Moscow, sorely lacked the theaters, the well-stocked stores and the busy hum of the capital.

So Kolya, as free as a bird and without a kopek to spare, started searching for a Muscovite willing to swap apartments. He religiously combed through the Iz Ruk v Ruki classifieds newspaper and copied down phone numbers from notices glued to the walls of apartment blocks.

After a few months, he found a woman with a one-room apartment located 30 minutes from Moscow's southern outskirts. He figured it was a fair trade, telling me 1 1/2 hours closer to Moscow was a good start.

The two signed off on the ownership documents and Kolya moved south, Iz Ruk v Ruki in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other.

Then a year passed without a bite, and Kolya was getting frustrated.

"It's tough competing with the other provincial Russians," he moaned. "But on top of that, I've got to deal with the Tajiks, Kazakhs and Georgians wanting to rent or ready to pay in cash."

Then he had a break. A woman wanted to offload her late mother's apartment near Kolomenskaya metro and, by a lucky coincidence, was looking for a place in the south to put up her daughter. Kolya's apartment fit the bill, if he would just chip in $1,000.

Kolya furiously borrowed money left and right, a few dollars here and there from his friends, and collected the amount.

He's now the proud owner of a 15-square-meter apartment on the fifth floor of a Khrushchev-era building.

Never mind that the portable television takes up half the room, that the kitchen resembles a broom closet and that a roach couldn't crawl between the toilet and tiny tub in the bathroom. And I know what I'm taking about. I've seen the roaches.

What's important is the permanent residency permit in his passport. Kolya is a bona fide Muscovite.

Andrew McChesney is deputy editor of The Moscow Times.