I came from a modest background: my mother was a seamstress and my father an engineer. The four of us (I have a younger brother) lived in a three-room apartment in a district of Moscow called Babushkinsky, which is to the north-east of the city. The apartment block was quite modern being a Brezhnevka-style building (meaning that it was built during the time that Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was President of the USSR from 1964-1982). When we received permission – called an Order – we were all very excited, because this would be the first time we had an apartment which was exclusively ours. Before we lived in a “communal” flat, where we had two separate rooms off a huge corridor and shared the kitchen and the bathroom facilities with four other families. Now, looking back, I can see that the Babushkino apartment was a bit tatty, but it was home, my mother did her best to make it cosy, and it was ours.
Above is a photo of a typical Brezhnevka block (not mine; I don’t seem to have any photos of it, but it was very like the white 9-storey building to the left of the photograph). At that time the official ‘space allowance’ per person was 9 square metres so ours being a family of four people we were officially entitled to an apartment with a total floor space of 36 metres. This when you’ve deducted space for a hallway, a bathroom and a kitchen doesn’t leave much to live in. We had three rooms ‒ a living room and two bedrooms – and it was cramped especially as I had my piano sharing my room. That’s why, if you look at the photographs you’ll see that most families have glassed in their balconies: this gave them an extra three square metres of storage space, though this didn’t do anything for the appearance of the apartment block.
Although I haven’t got a picture of the outside of my block of flats, here is a view from the kitchen window (we are on the fourth floor). By the way, if you remember, Irina’s car was an orange Moskvich, and as it happens, she must have been making a visit that day – her car is third from the right in the row of cars.
All in all it wasn’t a bad place to live and the one good thing was how warm it was in winter. All the windows were double-glazed with a 2 inch gap between the panes (though every October my mother, like all other Soviet women, also covered the joints with strips of white paper glued in place with homemade starched paste for additional insulation, this had to be washed off every April, when it got warmer) and the heating first-rate (as this centralised heating was provided by the State you didn’t have to worry about gas bills either).
But there were downsides. If you’ve read ‘Ghost Love’ you’ll understand that Tonia gives a pretty depressing description of what it was like to live in one of these blocks. I suppose my abiding memory is the smell. During the winter drunks (and there were/are a lot of them in Russia) would shelter in the entrances of the blocks and, of course, as there were no toilet facilities in the lobbies…
The other thing that I particularly disliked was when the heating and hot water were switched off for a month in the summer ‘for maintenance’: a whole month showering in cold water – brrrrrr …or going to the public baths as an alternative.