Artyom Loskutov, Belarus, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, truncheon print, 60 cm x 40 cm
(Thanks to Anna Klimenko for the heads-up)
Artyom Loskutov, Belarus, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, truncheon print, 60 cm x 40 cm
(Thanks to Anna Klimenko for the heads-up)
— Паслухай, стары,
нам учора абвешчана воля,
і сёння ад рання
народам запоўнены пляцы,
наперадзе – радасць,
якая нас век не пакіне,
і я назаўсёды з табой
— Паслухай, мой хлопча,
учора зіма пачалася,
і белыя вопраткі
чорныя дрэвы надзелі,
і шэранем ранішнім
ледзь прыцярушаны прорвы,
і холад хавае
ўсялякі ці прыпах, ці пах –
і так будзе доўжыцца
аж да вясновае ўлады –
тады на дарогах
адкрыюцца раны старыя,
як сонца сарве перавязкі…
Крывёю і брудам
вам станецца радасць
і доўга чаканая воля.
А тут, пад зямлёй,
пад заброснелай нізкаю столлю,
на змрочнай сцяне,
будуць мілыя блікі блукаць
маленькай, як жменька,
і вечнай – і вечнай! – надзеі…
… У кніжцы без вокладкі
і без апошніх старонак,
дзе вы, адмыслоўцы шалёнага часу,
я сёння заместа закладкі
ад пекнай герані,
падобнай на кроў і агонь.
Vadim F. Lurie, Minsk, 2019. Courtesy of the photographer
— Послушай, старик,
нам свободу вчера обещали,
и нынче с утра
уже площади полны народа,
их радость ведет,
и она нас вовек не покинет,
и с этого дня я с тобою
— Послушай, сыночек,
вчера к нам зима подступила,
и белые платья
решили примерить деревья,
и инеем ранним
чуть проруби сверху покрыты,
и холод скрывает
повсюду и запах, и вонь —
и будет держаться
все это до вешнего ветра —
тогда на дорогах
откроются старые раны,
лишь солнце сорвет с них повязки…
И кровью и грязью
и званая вами свобода.
А тут, под землей,
тут, где низкие своды и плесень,
на темной стене
будут милые блики играть
от зеркала крошечной
светлой и вечной надежды…
Но в книгу, где нет ни последних страниц,
где вы, мастера сумасшедшего времени,
я вместо закладки сегодня
похожей на кровь и огонь.
Translated from the Belarusian by Gennady Kanevsky
yesterday they promised us freedom,
and now, since morning,
the squares are filled with people,
led on by joy,
and it will never abandon us,
and from this day, I want
to part with you . . .
yesterday winter arrived,
and the trees decided
to try on white dresses,
and the ice holes are slightly covered
with early frost,
and everywhere the cold hides
both scents and stink—
and all this will hold firm
until a wind comes from outside—
then, on the roads,
old wounds will open,
if only the sun tears off the bandages . . .
And blood and dirt
will turn out to be the joy
and the freedom you called for.
And here, under the earth,
here, where there are low vaults and mold,
on the dark wall
dear flecks of light will play
from the tiny mirror
of bright and eternal hope.
But today, in this book, where there are no final pages,
where you, masters of the crazy times,
I will place a leaf
instead of a bookmark
from a wonderful geranium
that resembles blood and fire.
* * * * *
Tatsyana Sapach (1962–2010) was a Belarusian poet, journalist, and translator, and the author of two collections of poetry. Gennady Kanevsky (b. 1965, Moscow) has published eight books of verse. Many of his poems have been translated into English, Italian, Hungarian, and Ukrainian. Video courtesy of Nexta and Andrey Rysev
August 7, 2020
“My name is Bayan Mirzakeyeva. I am 21 years old, and I am an ethnic Kazakh from Almaty. I have been living and studying in St. Petersburg at the Architectural University for several years. It was here, in Russia, that I realized that I was “non-white” and learned about this condescending and contemptuous attitude towards myself. Since almost no one around me talks about racism and migration, I wanted to make my own statement. I posted these pictures on social networks and have faced different reactions, from support to aggression and rejection. This was expected, but it has been a kind of impetus for me to continue working with this problem.”
Bayan sent us her illustrations, and we are publishing them for you.
Come and talk about racism and migration at the open events that we are doing together with the Viadrinicum Summer School. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/AntiUniversityMSK/posts/626498341315382
I had never been called a “wog” [churka].
“So what’s it like in Moscow”?
“It’s the same old same old. Only there are more wogs.”
“There aren’t that many of them, actually.”
But this time it was if I had been called that name personally.
“But the Gypsies are everywhere.”
But how do I differ from those who are called “wogs”?
Am I different because I finished high school with honors?
Because I got a scholarship to university?
Because I speak Russian without an accent?
I have the same narrow eyes, the same coarse black hair. An unusual name.
Where does “wog” end and where do you begin?
Thanks to Sofiko Arifdzhanova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
On August 9, three new Last Address plaques will be installed in Petersburg.
At 12:00 p.m., relatives will install a plaque in memory of Anatoly Viktorovich Abramson at 77 Chaykovsky Street. Educated as a lawyer, Abramson worked an economic planner. In 1935, as a “socially dangerous element,” he was exiled to Saratov along with his family. He was arrested there in December 1937 and shot on January 6, 1938, after being convicted by an NKVD troika.
At 1:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Artemy Markovich Markov, a mechanic with the Kirov Railway, will be installed in the courtyard of the house at 44 Ligovsky Prospect. Markov was shot on December 10, 1937, as a member of an alleged “Polish counter-revolutionary sabotage group” of railway workers. The grandson of one of the men shot as part of the case has been installing memorial plaques for all of his grandfather’s co-defendants.
At 2:00 p.m., a plaque in memory of Iosif Kazimorovich Kazanovsky will be installed at 1 Dzhambul Lane. A 38-year-old technician at the Plastics Factory, he was arrested on September 16, 1937, and shot on September 28, 1937, along with classmates from the Polish High School. The plaque is being installed at the behest of the son of one of the executed men.
All three men were exonerated in the 1950s.
We invite you to join us for the installation ceremonies, while asking you to assess the risks and observe safety measures in connection with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance).
Courtesy of the Last Address Petersburg mailing list. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
New Greatness Members Get from Six to Seven Years in Prison
August 6, 2020
New Greatness defendants Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin in the cage at the Lyublino District Court in Moscow. Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky for EPA/TASS.
The Lyublino District Court in Moscow has sentenced members of the organization [sic] New Greatness, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Pyotr Karamzin, and Ruslan Kostylenkov to six, six and a half, and seven years in prison, respectively, reports our correspondent. According to the verdict, they will serve their sentence in a medium-security penal colony.
The other defendants in the case—Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik, and Anna Pavlikova—received suspended [i.e., probationary] sentences of four to six and a half years. They should be released from custody in the courtroom.
The judge found all the defendants guilty of “creating an extremist community” (punishable Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). At the same time, the court acknowledged that there were mitigating circumstances: the fact that the defendants had no criminal records, the positive character statements made on their behalf, and the fact that some of them suffered from chronic illnesses.
“She is very upset. Even though it’s a suspended sentence, you can only be away from home from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She wanted to work the night shift at the Moscow Zoo, but she won’t be able to do that. They will have full-fledged live only when all of them are free: a suspended sentence is still a sentence,” Anastasia, Anna Pavlikova’s sister, told RBC.
According to her, Pavlikova plans to appeal the verdict.
Our correspondent reports that the people gathered outside the courthouse are chanting “Shame!”
“In terms of standards of proof, the incident of provocation [by FSB agents] was the hardest to prove. It’s very hard to prove anything under the auspices of the security services. We did a great deal, we asked lots of questions. [Our] most important argument has been that such crimes are committed with a specific motive, but no motive was specified in the indictment. Therefore, there is no evidence of a crime,” Maxim Pashkov, Maria Dubovik’s lawyer, told reporters.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Darya Apahonchich is greeted by supporters outside the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020
So, here is a more detailed account of my arrest and trial.
Yesterday, I was stopped by police officers on the street near work. They would not let me pass, grabbing my scooter and saying that I should go with them, because they had “material” on me. I said I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just forced me into a vehicle.
In the vehicle, they refused to tell me what the reason was for detaining me. We drove to the first police precinct for a very long time, and the car broke down along the way. All the way, I scolded them, appealing to their conscience and reason. There were four of them and a vehicle, they had spent the whole day on me (probably more than one): did they have nothing more important to do? Later, I found out that they had been waiting for me since 5:30 in the morning, but I had left the house only at 2:00 in the afternoon. (So many resources wasted on me! Whatever for?) By the way, it’s funny that they were waiting for me near my house, but they only arrested me near my work, because I when I left the house I immediately jumped on my scooter, so they probably didn’t have time to grab me there. I can imagine how annoyed they were.
Varya Mikhailova, a community public defender, came and found me at the precinct, where I was handed charge sheets, concocted on the spot, for two street performances: the vulva ballet in support of Yulia Tsvetkova, and the road to the ocean of blood in support of the Khachaturyan sisters. There were a lot of mistakes in the charge sheets, which Varya had better tell you about, and I just refused to testify against myself.
Varya Mikhailova and Darya Apahonchich waiting for her hearing at the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhailova’s Facebook page
Around six o’clock, I was taken to court and tried on the two charges at once. It was there that I had a gander at my case files. They were quite hilarious. There was a touching insert from Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police] where you could see the photos from all my old [internal] passports, in which I was fifteen, twenty-one, and so on. Then there were screenshots of videos, and disks containing these same videos. In short, it was a cool folder, better than my pathetic portfolio. Another funny thing was that all the performances had been taken from a page on the MBKh Media Northwest website. They also wrote in my file how many likes and comments there were. There were very few likes.
The judge’s assistant showed the video and read aloud the text of the performance “this road leads to an ocean of blood.” She read very well, after which everyone fell silent. I really liked it, I would also add it to my portfolio.
I was found guilty (under Article 20.2, Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation [“violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”] and was sentenced to pay two fines of 10,000 rubles each [approx. 230 euros]. We will appeal the fines, of course, and I think we will also file a complaint against police officers for unlawful arrest.
I am upset, of course. (My “joking” program clicks on in such situations, but then when I get home, the “get scared” program turns on.) I don’t like living in a world where people in uniform grab you on the street and shove you into a paddy wagon. (I told them, “Don’t touch my scooter!” They said, “We’re not touching it!”—and then they grabbed the scooter.) I’m also sorry, of course, that I said I worked at the Red Cross. In the past, I usually didn’t tell them where I worked, but I didn’t get picked up on the street like this in the past. It’s an important lesson for everyone who has a “civilian” job: don’t tell the police about it.
I’m also upset that I have to constantly be ready for violence from all directions. Today, I have again been getting messages containing insults from strangers. Thank you for only sending messages. I categorically don’t like that, in this world, I constantly have to prove I have the right to voice my opinion. You see, the system thinks that if you are a teacher, a mother, then okay, that is a normal job, a normal life, you have the right to be (a little) dissatisfied, to engage in a little activism. (Moms cannot be held overnight at police stations on administrative charges.) But employers rarely like it when you are an activist. This system is very complicated and stifling.)
But I cannot help doing what I do. My support for Yulia Tsvetkova, for Angelina, Maria, and Krestina Khachaturyan is a very important part of my life. It is my freedom, my fight for the safety of all women, and my contribution to my children’s future. (I am really, really worried that my daughter is growing up in an unsafe world, that my son is growing up in an unsafe world, that society imposes places on them in the hierarchical meat grinder.) I am still going to be involved in activism: I cannot do it any other way.
(I had a year in my life when I worked at a college and was quite afraid that my name would be googled at work and I would be fired. Consequently, I tried not to do performances, and then I was fired anyway, because the college was shuttered, and my students were deported to boot.)
I want to say a huge thank you for your support. Yesterday, I got calls and emails, and my wonderful friends came to the courthouse. (No one was allowed inside, but we met outside when it was all over.) I am very glad for this a world of solidarity, thank you.
My public defender suggested that I should immediately announce that I was soliciting donations to pay the fines. I decided this was probably reasonable. There is hope that we will be able to get the fines reversed. In this case, I will transfer all money donated to Yulia Tsvetkova and Mediazona.
So here’s my card number. 4276 5500 7321 7849.
(This photo was taken near the courthouse. I found it on the Telegram channel https://t.me/armageddonna.)
Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Yellow Submarine’s log book. Image courtesy of Felix and Marina Vinogradov
We All Live in a Yellow Submarine
Islands of Freedom (Iofe Center)
Bearing the proud name Yellow Submarine, the commune at 28 Primorsky Prospect [in Leningrad] arose in August 1977 and lasted for just one year. Its organizers were university classmates Alexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov, who had dreamed about a place where everyone could experience personal freedom, where everyone could distance themselves from the current regime and express themselves freely.
The history of the commune’s emergence as a nonconformist association and, simultaneously, a haven for free thinkers originates in western culture. However, as Skobov notes, there were no concrete prototypes, meaning that its inner workings were shaped by the intuition of the people involved in it.
And so, a commune. What the heck is that, and what has brought us here? For nearly a year, several of us had been building magnificent castles in the air, which unexpectedly acquired an extremely firm earthly foundation. First and foremost, who are We? Let’s identify ourselves in full: students Marina Nikitina (Vinogradova), Felix Vinogradov, Tatiana Komarova, Alexander Skobov, Igor Malsky, Andrei Antonenko, and Alexander Volkov (aka Lupus). [From the commune’s log book]
The commune was located in a private, two-story wooden house (something rare for Leningrad) on Primorsky Prospect that Felix and Marina Vinogradov had rented not long before their son was born. The first people to join them in the commune were Skobov’s university crowd and several acquaintances from their school days. Later, Andrei Reznikov, one of the founders of the so-called Leningrad School, and Alexei Khavin, who was involved in creating the dissident magazine Perspektiva, joined the commune. Then the commune gradually became a refuge for Leningrad hippies and various acquaintances who were looking for temporary housing or simply а “crash pad.”
Alexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov outside the Leningrad University history department, circa 1976–1977. Photo courtesy of the Iofe Foundation
One of the motives for founding an “island of liberty” like the commune on Primorsky was the desire to live an independent life and leave home.
“It was a way of dropping out of society,” Skobov said in a 1991 interview.
The commune was created not simply as vehicle for internal emigration and distancing from Soviet reality, but also as an alternative cultural and ideological space based on establishing certain shared values of freedom and mocking certain existing official norms. This was expressed even in the commune’s interior decor, including yellow walls with wild strawberries drawn on them and homemade ironic posters that played off Soviet and western symbols. The parodic decrees and decisions issued by the Yellow Submarine and its separate “holds,” as well as poems and songs that turned propagandistic clichés inside out, were an ironic response to the meaningless words of the official Soviet discourse. One inhabitant of the commune on Primorsky, Igor Malsky, even claimed that the communards collectively invented the folklore genre “sadistic verse.” The peak of the commune’s creative powers is considered the “rock poem” “Lazha” (“Crap”), among whose characters one can recognize the residents of the Yellow Submarine.
Felix Vinogradov, Seal of the Yellow Submarine commune, 1977. Image courtesy of Felix and Maria Vinogradov
In an interview with us, Skobov said that his idea, subsequently, of engaging in political activity, printing flyers, etc., came to him while living in the commune. Many participants named as their motive for moving into the commune the “total crap,” i.e., the lies that surrounded the celebrations of the October Revolution’s sixtieth anniversary and the adoption of the new Soviet constitution [in 1977]. As for revolutionary sentiments, Skobov said that those went no further than kitchen table conversations “berating the authorities.”
Daily life in the commune took shape as in a large family: arguments periodically arose among its inhabitants. The commune was supported by various means, but everyone tried to contribute in accordance with the main rule, “a little bit from everyone each day”: one person received a university stipend, another was working, while a third person “dragged it out of their parents.” The refuge itself was a two-story wooden house whose first floor belonged to the “dissidents,” and the second to the “hippies.”
“Two rooms, two kitchens, a wooden staircase. All of it was quite exotic, except for the fact that the decor was even more exotic,” Skobov said when describing the interior. The commune residents took care of decorating and the “cozy touches” themselves.
We can divide the commune into two ideological centers: those who took part in publishing Perspektiva magazine (which was originally Skobov’s initiative), and those who were “Soviet hippies.” For example, Felix Vinogradov, one of the commune’s founders, was interested exclusively in the cultural aspect of the process—art, music, lifestyle, and language. All of it was inspired by western ideas of nonconformism, hence his choice of name for the commune. His opposite number was Alexei Khavin, another striking member of the Primorsky scene. He was actively involved in the protest movement: he typed up leaflets on a typewriter in the commune and wrote articles criticizing the government for Perspektiva. Khavin was eager to go beyond kitchen conversations and do something more concrete.
The confrontation between the inhabitants of the first and second floors of the commune—the more bourgeois “upper level” and the anarchic “lower level”—at times began to resemble the intensity of a cold civil war, complete with mutual insults, reproaches, and accusations. [Andrei Antonenko and Felix Vinogradov, press release for the exhibition The Yellow Submarine Commune, 1977–2007]
This internal division could not but determine the community’s fate. Felix Vinogradov was the first to leave the house on Primorsky, followed by almost all the hippies.
The KGB took an interest in our magazine: its destruction was imminent, and our commune was threatened along with it. They didn’t nab us at the house itself. The thing was that its residents felt that something was brewing and departed to their own homes. My friend from the university, an idealistic hippie, rented apartments for the commune with me, and his father was a colonel in the Border Guards, and they were under the KGB. He worked in [the KGB’s famous local headquarters] on Liteiny Prospect. It was then a rather widespread phenomenon, not only here but also in Europe: the children of wealthy parents and security forces officers turned into hippies. And so this hippie’s dad pulled up to the house in a small truck filled with soldiers. They loaded up his things and drove him and his wife away. The others understood what was going on, and they left too. [Alexander Skobov, “Our Oppositional Communism Was an Oddity”]
Alexander Skobov, Tatiana Komarova, and Felix Vinogradov, 1977. Photo courtesy of Felix and Marina Vinogradov
The only residents remaining were those who were primarily interested in publishing Perspektiva and were organizing a meeting of opposition groups, which the New Left group planned to hold on the Karelian Isthmus. But because information about the upcoming meeting was leaked to the KGB, the group’s members were also forced to urgently remove everything from the commune having to do with their political activities. Alexander Skobov and Arkady Tsurkov were soon arrested, and the apartments of other members of the New Left group were searched, while the house on Primorsky Prospect was completely abandoned. After the dissidents left their Yellow Submarine, the house was razed, and no photos of it remain. But the phenomenon of the Yellow Submarine commune itself is one of the most striking examples of the “islands of freedom” adrift in the space of Soviet Leningrad.
Juliane Fürst, “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine: Life in a Leningrad Commune,” in Juliane Fürst and Josie McLellan, eds., Dropping Out of Socialism: Alternative Spheres in the Soviet Bloc (New York, 2016), 179–207
Alexei Sochnev, “Our Oppositional Communism Was an Oddity,” Russkaya Planeta, March 19, 2014 [Interview with Alexander Skobov]
I exit the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street—and find myself in a sunny downpour. From inside, the storm seemed much darker. (Many things probably seem much darker inside the prison.). I stand under the awning of Center “E” and look across the road at the prison, dazzling in silver drops from the sky, in the spray made by the wheels of passing cars. I’m under the awning and safe, but my feet are getting a little wet. For a short time the street is quiet, there are no people or cars. A small rainbow falls directly on Shpalernaya from the sky, vanishing in a few minutes.
I will tell Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] about this when we meet, just I told him about the bat that flies at night in the courtyard near the prison. And he told me how a pigeon had flown into their prison cell and landed on his trousers, and how he and his cellmate had caught it by donning plastic bags. They had chased it out of the window and fed it prison bread.
About the verdict.* Vitya had received it on Thursday and immediately read it, but he hadn’t looked at it again. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, he plans to write and send an appeal. When I asked him to comment on the verdict, he could not say anything printable—he cursed loudly and waved his hands. When I asked him one more time to make a publishable statement on the matter, he slumped his head on the table. That was when I realized that it was his verdict and his seven years in prison, and he could comment or not comment on them as he wished.
He will write an appeal, of course, there is no doubt about it. Although he doesn’t feel like doing it at all: he says that he is always busy with something, and there is not enough time. He reads a lot about math (I only remember something about graph theory, but there are a lot of other topics), devises assignments for a training course on “pogromming,” and studies English. He’s apparently in good health, and his mood is also cheerful. However, the last couple of weeks he has had increased problems with sleep. He falls asleep in the morning, when it is already time to get up. (And this is despite the fact that since February, he has been taking drugs that should also level out his sleep.)
The censor is on vacation, and for three weeks, Vitya has received no letters from the outside world. (I don’t think he is able to send letters, either). But he gets Novaya Gazeta once a week, so Vitya is more or less aware of all the news. The library has been undergoing repairs of some kind, so a month ago, Vitya and his cellmate had to return all their library books, but they cannot take out new ones yet.
Update (added here from the comments). The coronavirus restrictions, imposed in early April, have almost all been lifted: the receipt of care packages and parcels has resumed, as well as visits with relatives. Meetings with lawyers no longer take place through glass, but all visitors must still wear masks and gloves. The mysterious “cleaning day” on Friday, when lawyers cannot visit clients, is also still in place.
Photo by and courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on Viktor Filinkov and the Network Case (see below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with him and the other defendants in the case. All of them now face long terms in prison unless their guilty verdicts are reversed on appeal, which is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, unfortunately.
July 29, 2020
What would the flowers say if they could? They would demand the release of Yulia Tsvetkova, of course! The reproductive organs of all living beings are important and worthy of respect, and disseminating information about them is not a crime. This is clear to everyone, from the youngest begonia tubers to the huge redwoods. The time has come for people to understand this. And if, instead of persecuting female activists, the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation would take up gardening, how pretty the world would be! Elect a Scotch marigold president and begonias to parliament! Grow your own gardens! Leave others alone! Free Yulia Tsvetkova!
Caution! Your children could see the sexual organs of these French marigolds!
These daisies demand an end to the persecution of Yulia Tsvetkova!
These nettles support sex education for children, adults, and police officers.
You can use the stamens and pistils of these lilies explain to children where they came from and not go to prison for it.
These smart violets know that a schematic drawing of a vulva is not pornography.
These Scotch marigolds insist that you should plant flowers, not jail female artists.
These petunias permit you to seek and disseminate information about the female reproductive system.
Yulia Tsvetkova’s surname is based on the Russian word for “flower,” tsvet. You can read more about the Putinist state’s case against her and join the international solidarity campaign that has arisen in her defense at Free Yulia Tsvetkova. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich. Translated by the Russian Reader
Moving along from street to street, the tram gains speed, brakes, stops and lets passengers out and on. They make for a seat or stay on their feet, leaning against the doors or hanging from the handles above. Then the tram gets underway, off to the next stop. The down-to-earth driver talks about her job and her life in St. Petersburg (still known as Leningrad when the film was made), the second biggest city in Russia. As she drives, she is filmed from above so we get to look her in the eye. The expressions of her passengers are also captured as they peer out the window, look at one another, read the paper, daydream or just stare off into space. This is all about observing and being observed, a game that Russian documentarian Lyudmila Stanukinas loves to play. She intercuts the microcosm of the tram with telling observations from outside: a statue filmed through the trees, and the rippling water of the Neva River, the bubbling heart of the city. Stanukinas develops a Russian variation on direct cinema, combining it with the visual poetry of city symphonies from the 1930s, made by countrymen such as Dziga Vertov. Though this is the Soviet Union of the 1970s, communism seems far away for the moment. For now, it’s all about the day-to-day goings on in the tram. (Kinoglaz)
A Tram Runs Through the City (Leningrad, 1973)
[Title] Lyudmila Grigorovich, a driver based at the Leonov Tram Depot
[Title] Monday shift: 6:13 a.m. to 12:52 p.m
[Voiceover] That’s how it goes. I drive myself around in the morning, the car is half-empty. Familiar places that I ran around as a child. Before the war, my mother also worked on the trams as a conductor out of the Leonov Depot.
That is where I went to kindergarten.
I love my tram, I love it more than any other job. If you do a good job of getting ready and get a good night’s sleep, it’s a joy to work. I’m rarely in a bad mood. Although one of our drivers says that going to work is like walking uphill. For me, it’s like walking downhill.
[Loudspeaker] “Gavanskaya Street!”
It’s always quiet in the car in the morning. My passengers are half asleep, half dozing. They’re not talkative now. That’s okay: by evening, they’ll be talking up a storm. It’s quiet. They’re reading newspapers.
My kids, Zhenka and Galya, also want to be tram drivers. Zhenka can oversleep and be late for school, but s/he will come to meet my tram, even at night.
[Newspaper headline] “A strategy for peaceful coexistence”
I know that man. He works somewhere at the Baltic Shipyard.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Baltic Shipyard!”
Oh, look how many people the subway has coughed up: it’s a throng.
Sometimes, a passenger is coming to getting on my tram, supposedly, but they move so lazily, in no hurry, flailing around trying to figure out what door to enter. I immediately get angry and close the doors. You have to decide right away whether you’re getting on or not. A passenger who is slow on the uptake. In the evening, I wait for all of them to get on: they have to make it home. It’s a long wait between trams.
Soon the commercial workers will go to work: their time is approaching.
What’s it going to be, old woman? Are you and I going to avoid a collision?
People are like pigeons. They don’t hurry and they don’t fly. And they walk on the tracks. I read them. I don’t take my eyes off them. They always run out onto the tram tracks, thinking it’s a safe area. So, I have to think for them in order to save their lives. You need to have a sense of pedestrians, of which ones will run out on the tracks, and which won’t.
I love the morning shift. At twelve o’clock that’s it: you have the whole day ahead of you. You still have time to cook lunch.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Nevsky Prospect. . . Transit tickets are available for sale.”
They keep traveling. Some have caught up on their sleep, while others are headed to the night shift. Why do they keep on traveling? Where are they going?
Our interactions with people are very limited. That’s why I suffer heart and soul over the fact I can’t chat with them. I watch them in silence: that is my only way of interacting and getting to know them.
Our work is not so nerve-wracking. It just requires maximum concentration. Basically, you have to like people. If you don’t like them you might jam them in the doors. You have to keep your eyes peeled the whole time. When I sneeze and my eyes close, I get scared. When I close my eyes, the car can travel eight meters in that instant, but there is no way I can sneeze with my eyes open. Soon the tram would be going sixty kilometers an hour, and then, I think, I could run someone over.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Piskarevsky Prospect.”
I remember the war, the Siege [of Leningrad]. I remember that Mom would lock me in our room. I was very afraid when the sky blazed red. The neighbor lady would be cooking wood glue [to eat], and it smelled really delicious.
[Title] Wednesday: shift from 1:06 p.m. to 5:41 p.m.
What weather today! It’s the most typical Leningrad weather.
Now there are more female passengers, including old women, wallets in hand, going to the market. They’re a cagey lot: potential nannies, who are in short supply.
[Loudspeaker] “Peace Square.”
Here, on the fifth floor, my child draws blueprints. It’s been a month since my daughter Galka became an adult.
Everybody bothers the elderly passengers. Why are you traveling during working hours? Are you having trouble sleeping? Once, this one old woman was standing next to the door. People kept asking whether she was getting off. She kept answering, “I’m thinking about whether this is my stop.” Finally, everyone lost their cool and told her to get off. She said, “I’ll get off, I’ll get off, dears, it’s a big day.” It was like a comedy.
I think I’m the first to see “natural phenomena”: how people dress, what the fashions are, what the trends in colors are. It all happens right before my eyes. I manage to see everything. If a housewife is drinking tea on the second floor, I see what she’s having with it.
[Loudspeaker] “Field of Mars.”
Galka and I often talk about life and love. Galya keeps asking me, “How do you get to know a person?” Spend more time talking to them, I tell her. Their personality will come out, they’ll reveal themselves.
[Loudspeaker] “Institute of Technology.”
[Title] Friday: shift from 6:30 p.m. to 12:49 a.m.
My No. 40 tram sails through the city. People keep waiting and waiting. They keep putting their hands over their eyes to see whether the tram is coming.
When my children were little, I would tell them poetically, “When dusk descends on the city, the tram’s green eyes light up.” Yes, she’s a fashionable one, my No. 40. [Leningrad-Petersburg trams use a system of two lights and a combination of four colors—red, blue, green, and yellow—to indicate their numbers in the dark. The code for Tram No. 40 is two green lights.]
I tell Galka that, in my opinion, unofficially, behind the scenes, a matriarchy exists: you have to raise not only your kids, but your husband as well. You’ve got to plan the weekend. He’s not going to think about where to go, what to take along. You have to make all the preparations and discuss everything. Basically, the way the woman organizes life is how it’s going to be.
How marvelous! The cold is so palpable. When there are fireworks here, we travel slowly along this section, and even the passengers don’t want me to go faster. You can see how beautiful it is. Just imagine: our city stands on one hundred islands. And all the bridges: there are almost six hundred of them. Where else can you find a marvel like our city?
In the evening, there is light in the windows and you see what kind of furniture people have, how they’ve decorated their places in their own way, the way they feel it. On Science Prospect there is a small room whose walls are lined with bookcases. When I drive by in the evening, I always look at it.
[Loudspeaker] “Theater Square.”
We really love the opera, we go to the ballet and to hear music. When we go to a concert and take Zhenka with us, and I see on the program that there will be an evening of organ music, I manage to read the entire program, trying to calculate when Galka and I will have an evening off.
My Galka doesn’t use make-up or paint her face. That’s my influence. By the way, she doesn’t like perfume or cologne. She likes it when people don’t smell of anything, like clean dishes.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Kamennoostrovsky Prospect. . . Please don’t forget to pay your fare.”
It happens that, when you’re returning to the depot in the evening or even late at night, some people feel like chatting, but usually acquaintances are not struck up then. Sometimes, though, you look in the mirror, to take a break for a second, and wink back. The drivers sometimes make eyes at each other, too. It’s okay—if they like each other’s looks, if they’re working the same route. Generally, though, I put on a strict, official face: when I’m driving I don’t give anyone cause to make eyes at me.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Labor Square.”
Those two will be out all night. The wanderers and the strays ride the trams in the evening.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment.”
It’s not a talkative job: you’re always rattling off the same stops like a parrot.
[Loudspeaker] “This tram is going to the Leonov Depot.”
What’s the point in crying? All the same it’s good to be alive. The tram will be around for a long time to come.
If the trams stopped tonmorrow, everyone would be upset. Trams make frequent stops and crawl to all the ends of the city. Although they’re crowded inside, tram’s are still good a good thing.
Leningrad Studio of Documentary Films
Transcribed and translated by the Russian Reader, with timely assistance from Comrade Koganzon. To help me continue translating and editing this website you can donate at your discretion at paypal.me/avvakum.
Lyudmila Stanukinas, the film’s director, died in Jerusalem on July 8, 2020, at the age of 89. Her distinguished career as a documentary filmmaker included a series of films about famous Soviet writers, actors, and musicians, as well as Moving Day (1970), which won a Silver Dragon at the 7th Krakow International Short Film Festival. Viktor Kossakovsky has made a film about Stanukinas and her husband the filmmaker Pavel Kogan, the award-winning Pavel and Lyalya (1998).
The 1973 Leningrad Public Transport Route Map. Although Lyudmila Grigorovich, the narrator and heroine of A Tram Runs Through the City, says that she is driving the No. 40 tram, its route, neither nowadays nor in 1973, has ever passed through all the stops she calls out in the film, which are located in very different parts of the city.