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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Find Out Who Lives Where

MTA man entering the information booth near the Central Telegraph office on Tverskaya.
Foreigners in Moscow sometimes think that if they have been stopped on the street and asked for directions, it is a sign of assimilation, a sign that they somehow look Russian.

Fat chance. It is more likely that they are just the last hope for someone as lost as they are among the 4,500 streets, lanes and dead ends. Who knows exactly where 7th Prudnaya and 3rd Pryadilvaya are? Or who about Levy Tupik?

Once, people knew where to go to for advice: They would head for Mosgorspravka, or Moscow City Information, an organization that had 200 kiosks dotted around the city. There were three on Pushkin Square alone. In those days, city maps were scarce and the natural secrecy of the government meant the kiosks were essential signposts of city life.

Now there are only 12 of the kiosks left. They receive fewer visitors and are still manned by those who worked in them in Soviet times.

It would be an exaggeration to call Mosgorspravka a wise oracle, but it certainly remains well-informed. As well as providing directions, selling maps and A-Z's, the kiosks work as a personalized Yellow Pages, offering the addresses of any company or any person in the CIS. Mosgorspravka also publishes a number of reference books, such as "Ulitsy Moskvy," runs hotlines on topics such as city and government laws, and has an archive on who and what has lived and worked in Moscow over the past 200 years.

Oddly, the information agency is not keen on providing information about itself. Mosgorspravka flatly rejected an interview request, referring a reporter to its web site.

The most prominent of the kiosks stands next to the Central Telegraph building on Tverskaya Ulitsa. The modern-looking kiosk, complete with an ATM, is run by a woman who has been in the information-giving business since 1956.

The woman, who is known to her clients only as Valentina Ivanovna, was not in the best of moods as she fielded inquiries from a steady stream of information seekers on a recent afternoon.

One man spent a half-hour getting addresses and phone numbers to organizations as diverse as Mosfilm and the Danish Embassy.

Igor Pechinkov, the director of Ulyanovsk-based aerospace company Aviatekhnika, handed over 100 rubles in the hope of finding the addresses of friends he had not seen in 10 years. "You give the name and surname, and it only takes an hour," he said. "It's cheap, less than a cup of coffee in London."

Customers need to have the date of birth, city or, in Moscow, city district of residence and correct name to receive information. If any of the three are incorrect, Valentina Ivanovna refuses to give the information.

If you haven't got the right date of birth, it won't work, she snapped at one customer. In her defense, she had been listening to the maddening hold music of the address operator for many a minute.

The Tverskaya kiosk is an exception. The kiosks at Sokol and Kievskaya are cramp and look as if they have not been touched since Brezhnev's day. The one at Sokol is hidden between two newspaper sellers, while Kievskaya's attracts as many wandering homeless people as those in need of information.

"People don't want to pay," said Klavdia Kazantseva, 65, who has worked at the Kievskaya kiosk since 1981. In Soviet times, the service cost 3 kopeks, while prices now range from 10 rubles to 100 rubles.

A lot of the time Kazantseva gives out information for free.

The lack of Mosgorspravka kiosks may be part of the reason that others are trying to cash in on the business. Vera, a former builder now a pensioner, has been standing for some time outside the Chistiye Prudy metro with a sign around her neck offering directions for 5 rubles.

Kazantseva does not earn much more than Vera for her services. She receives a base salary of 450 rubles plus a commission on each sale, making her monthly salary barely more than 1,000 rubles.

In Soviet times, her kiosk at least had a telephone. Now, when Kazantseva needs to find an address or a number for a customer, she is forced to grab her phone card and call from the nearest phone booth or from home.

"These aren't wages," said Kazantseva's daughter, Yekaterina. "These are just the minimum to get you to work."

Mosgorspravka's history dates from before Soviet times, with the first information bureau opening in Moscow 250 years ago. The Mosgorspravka that exists today was founded in 1895, about the same time that reference books such as "Vsya Rossia" and "Torgovaya Rossia" were first printed. "Vsya Rossia" is still in print.

The 12 Mosgorspravka kiosks can be found beside the Central Telegraph office, on 2 Ulitsa Petrovka and at metro stations Sokol, Kashirskaya, Paveletskaya, Park Kultury, Krasnopresnenskaya, 1905 Goda, Taganskaya, VDNKh, Kievskaya and Profsoyuznaya.