Young People Take Back Soviet ‘Kommunalkas’

During the Soviet era, it wasn’t uncommon for people in big cities to share a single apartment with up to 20 other people — often sharing just one bathroom and kitchen. Half a century later, with rents in central Moscow and St. Petersburg soaring, some people still live in these kommunalka apartments out of necessity. We took a look at everyday life inside one of them. Sergey, 24, removes a plate caked in sausage grease from an overflowing sink before he starts brushing his teeth. Bugs skitter over the forks and spoons left in the bottom. He rinses his well-used toothbrush and shoves it in the back pocket of his shorts. 

There is no washbasin in this apartment — only one steel sink. 

It is used by 17 roommates for washing dishes, brushing teeth, cleaning shoes and even for filling a spray bottle to ward off bed bugs. 

“Call it whatever you want,” says Sergey. “Some people call it a kommunalka, others co-living, even a squat. No wait, not a squat — nobody pays for a squat.” 

These kommunalka apartments are made up of a long corridor lined with lots of small, separate bedrooms and one kitchen and bathroom, where dozens of families lived together. 

They were first built under the tsars, then used by the Soviets to prevent a housing crisis. 

The classic kommunalka cliche, borne from archive footage and in the collective memory, is a long line for a single shower that was often used by up to 20 people. 

Half a century later, with rents in central Moscow and St. Petersburg soaring, some people still live in a kommunalka out of necessity.

There’s still a queue for the shower, and the electrics don’t look like they’ve been upgraded since Soviet times. 

But factory workers’ families have been replaced by immigrants or young, artsy people. Basically anyone with a low salary who has just moved to the big city. These kommunalki are paradises for slum landlords. 

“I sleep in the corridor,” says Diana, 21.

Her single mattress is laid out on a makeshift wooden platform suspended from the ceiling. If she removes her blankets she can see people walking underneath her through the cracks in the wood.

“Every night I wake up when somebody comes home late and starts to talk loudly. […] But that’s okay, I’m young and I can survive on three hours sleep a night.” 

For this nine-square-meter room without windows, Diana pays 15,500 rubles ($250) per month.

A place for newcomers

The flatmates in this apartment come from the Caucasus, Siberia, St. Petersburg and Kazakhstan. Only one of them was born in Moscow. 

This evening, Karina has just returned from her hometown of Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus Mountains with heaps of the traditional flatbread called lavash.

She has no family or roots in Moscow. The only thing keeping her here is her job as a cosmetologist.

“In small cities, salaries are very low, and there is basically no future there. No future.” 

Nibbling on another piece of lavash, she says she misses the mountains of her homeland.

“I miss my family, but when there are people around you, you never feel alone […] Here I feel like we are one big family.”

Sitting on the windowsill in his pajamas, Sergey enjoys one of his last cups of tea in the kommunalka. 

After 10 months here, he is moving to France. 

“Of course I will miss the people here, I will miss friends […]  When you move in here you understand quickly that you’re going to be living with a lot of people, that’s why the rent is so low. But there’s always somebody to talk to!”

Samantha Berkhead  @samberkhead

(c) The Moscow Times


  1. I love the second image down. Nice to see Russian authorities keeping up with electrical safety standards. Now I know why so many fires break out in Russia.

  2. There is a simple way we can help to get their rents right down. Cripple the economy with weaponised sanctions.

      • Nothing changes redders! Here is a Ronnie classic that is still applicable today:

        An American and a Russian are sitting in a bar, arguing over whose country was better. The American argues,

        “See, in America, I am free to do whatever I want. If I wanted to, I could walk right into the White House, slam my fist on the President’s desk, and say ‘Mr. President, I don’t like the way you are running our country.”

        The Russian then said, “I can do the same thing.”

        “Really? You can?” asks the American.

        “Yes,” continues the Russian, “If I wanted to, I could walk right into the Kremlin, slam my fist on the General Secretary’s office, and say ‘Mr. General Secretary, I don’t like the way President Reagan is running his country.”

          • Perhaps by proxy? He is on the left, but is a friend of and a frequent guest of right wing putlerite shock jock and Ukraine hater Michael Savage, who is a close friend and advisor to Trump. On Savage and wife’s frequent cosy dinners at Mar-A-Lago with the Trumps, Savage pumps him full of anti-Ukraine hate and conspiracy theories provided to him by Cohen.

              • He has flown on Air Force one with Trump, so I reckon he must be quite close to him. He was also banned from entering the UK for life for promoting hatred.

              • I am very surprised! American conservative talk radio is huge and generates $billions of ad revenue. There is none bigger than Savage, except Rush Limbaugh, who you must know. Limbaugh is pro-Trump and a borderline putlerite. Then you have Mark Levin: pro-Trump/borderline putlerite, Hannity: full Trump/putlerite, Tucker Carlson: pro-Trump and recently declared that he was ‘rooting for Russia in its struggle with Ukraine’, Laura Ingraham : pro-Trump/speaks Russian/has adopted Russian kids/is a fanatical putlerite, Anne Coulter: pro-Trump/fanatical putlerite: even suggested that putler should invade Europe to save them from Muslims, Glenn Beck: pro-Trump/pro-putler, Alex Jones: pro-Trump/fanatical putler propagandist.
                Returning to Savage: Trump was a frequent guest on his show prior to becoming president. Savage boasts of intimate dinners with the Trumps at Mar-A-Lago. Savage really hates Ukraine and loves putler. Guess who stands in for Savage when he’s off sick? That’s right: Rudy fucking Giuliani: Trump friend and fanatical anti-Ukraine conspiracy theorist and liar.
                Related: Pompeo has been caught telling a journo that ‘the American people do not care about Ukraine’.

                • That is what the “journo” alleges and coming from NPR it’s probably a lie. Besides, it was supposed to be off the record so the only consumers would be TDS patients like you, sorry.

                  • All of these fanatics I list are big names in the US. All link up. All propagandize against Ukraine. Ingraham, who I’m sure you know, is a friend of Savage. Can you think of any big names in US media who love Trump and hate putler? There are none. As always, you can judge a man by the company he keeps.
                    The worst of all Trump associates is Manafort, who single handedly transformed an unelectable thug into a winner; thus unleashing years of death, terror and misery on Ukraine. The evidence is overwhelming. Trump hates Ukraine and has said so over and over again. No friend of Savage could be any different. Read what Savage said about McCain and what Trump said. Even the words are almost identical. As were the words Trump used on the record to support the invasion of Crimea. Savage has been putting the words into his mouth for years.

                    The TDS you refer to is an exclusively left wing phenomenon: the left don’t give a shit about Ukraine. I have the same opinion of Trump that John McCain did, for the same reasons.

  3. In America you can always find a party. In Russia the party always finds you.

    In Russia, if a male athlete loses he becomes a female athlete.

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