Käppäselgä: A Godforsaken Corner of a Would-Be Superpower

Resident of Karelian Village Käppäselgä: My House Might Not Survive the Winter 
Maria Dmitriyeva
7X7
November 28, 2017

Galina Ryaziyeva

Galina Ryaziyeva, a pensioner living in the Karelian village of Käppäselgä, is afraid the roof of her home might collapse. The adjacent flats are dilapidated and are pulling the only remaining habitable section of the wooden barracks down with them. A lawsuit filed against the district council, which owns most of the house, has dragged on. Our correspondent tried to get to the bottom of the story.

The Back of Beyond
Käppäselgä is located the backwoods of the Kondopoga District. It is not just that you can encounter real bears in the village but also that it is one of the district’s northernmost corners. It is closer to the town of Medvezhyegorsk [Bear Hill] than the district’s seat, Kondopoga. Despite the seeming proximity of the Kola Highway, it is no easy trick getting to Käppäselgä, due to twenty kilometers of dirt road, reduced to rubble by lumber trucks. It took us three hours to drive to Käppäselgä from Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia. The last hour of the trip was spent traveling over those twenty kilometers of dirt road.

Кяппесельга.jpgKäppäselgä’s train station. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Socially, the circumstances in Käppäselgä are typical of Karelian villages. Nearly all the young people have left for the city long ago. There are ever fewer jobs available, and children can study at the local school only until the ninth form. The housing stock consists entirely of wooden houses. The amenities are outside, and fresh water is truck into the villaged. When a house is uninhabited, it rapidly deteriorates, and the roof eventually caves in. Currently, there are many such dilapidated barracks-style houses in Käppäselgä. There are also problems with transportation. A commuter train used to run twice a day (Käppäselgä has its own train station), but several years ago the schedule was reduced to once a day. So, if they want to go to Kondopoga or Petrozavodsky, villagers have to be at the station at four in the morning. The bus runs only once a week.

4Ramshackle roofs, broken windows, and empty houses are a common sight in Käppäselgä. 

Given these conditions, living in Käppäselgä is an accomplishment in itself. But the villagers face another obstacle: the unwillingness of the district council, which owns a considerable portion of the housing stock, to fulfill its responsibilities.

“It Could End in Disaster”
“I’m still afraid to sleep at night, because when the roof collapsed, it made such a racket. I jumped out of bed. I couldn’t understand what the cracklonging noise was. I went up to the attic. I could see my part of the roof was still intact, but the rest of the roof had collapsed into the flat next door,” said Ryaziyeva.

Ryaziyeva is sixty-two years old. She has had a stroke, suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and lives in a wooden house whose roof, she argues, could collapse at any moment due to inaction by the district council.

All the locals know Ryaziyeva: she worked at the local hospital for several decades. In the early 1980s, she and her husband moved into a four-flat wooden barracks, built in 1953, on Central Street. In 1984, the house was refurbished. The common corridor shared by the flats was removed, but the roof was not repanelled and reshingled. Consequently, for many years the roof would leak after heavy rains, dousing “either the ceiling lamp or the sofa.” In the 2000s, Ryaziyeva managed to get the council to repair the roof by threatening to take them to court, but according to her, the roofers the council hired for the job repaired only her portion of the roof, and slipped the old roof slats back under the new shingles.

There has not been a thorough renovation since then, and repairs that were carried out from time to time, such as replacing the window frames, were done by the residents themselves. Several years ago, when there was a hullabaloo about the nationwide housing privatization program’s coming to an end, Ryaziyeva privatized her flat. The other three flats in the house remained the council’s property.

Ryaziyeva now lives alone in the deserted barracks. Her children, grown up, have moved to the city, and her neighbors have either moved away, died or gone to prison. So, the other flats in the house are uninhabited and unheated, and so they are falling apart. The damage is so extensive that the roof in one flat has collapsed: this was the incident described by Ryaziyeva, above, when a terrible racket woke her up in the middle of the night. There is still serious danger that the rotten section of the roof above the empty flats will collapse, taking the roof over Ryaziyeva’s flat down with them. She has had to close two rooms in her own flat. The furnaces in those rooms, adjacent to the flats next door, could no longer be heated. The cold and damp swelled the wallpaper on the walls, and the window frames sagged and succumbed to rot.

2An uninhabited room in Galina Ryaziyeva’s flat

There is another problem. Uninvited guests have taken to visiting the uninhabited part of the house.

“The housing inspectorate ordered the council to make the house inaccessible to strangers. But this was not done. My son-in-law and I had to drive them out. Two men got blotto in there and fell asleep. Then I boarded up the doors myself. It could end in disaster.”

The Council Was to Blame
Ryaziyeva first sounded the alarm in 2014, but her patience ran out in 2016, when part of the roof collapsed. She made several appeals to the Kondopoga District Council, which has recently been tasked with managing all the housing stock in the district. She also contacted the prosecutor’s office, the housing inspectorate, Alexander Hudilainen, former head of the Karelian Republic, and even federal MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Her son Alexei has twice written to President Putin’s public liaison office and recently sent a letter to Artur Parfyonchikov, the republic’s new head. Their appeals and letters were not dismissed. Recognizing the problem and receiving instructions from the relevant authorities, local officials promised to deal with the situation and carry out repairs, initially, after the snow melted, and later, in the spring or summer. So, in the voluminous archive of official correspondence and documents Ryaziyeva has amassed in recent years, there is a letter, signed by acting district head Dmitry Kirpu, in which the latter writes, “By Decree No. 535, dated 9 September 2016, of the Kondopoga Municipal District, flats no. 2, 3, 4 in the multi-flat house on Central Street in the village of Käppäselgä will be demolished in 2017. (The work is tentatively scheduled for the spring or summer of 2017). You will receive more information about the dates and deadlines of the work.”

The letter even mentioned a specific estimate of the repair’s cost: 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,300 euros]. According to Yelena Paltseva, who represented the Ryaziyev family in court, this figure was also mentioned later in the process. However, an independent inspection, which the family later commissioned, showed that more money would be required to rebuild the house.

Spring and summer came and went, but no work was done. Ryaziyeva appealed to Parfyonchikov’s community liaison office on several occasions, and Anna Lopatkina and Andrei Pogodin insisted she file a lawsuit, which she finally did.

The independent inspection determined the list of repairs necessary to save the Ryaziyev family flat. While reconstructing the house, it would be necessary to separate their portion of the house from the other, uninhabited parts of house, which would involve dismantling the chimneys and removing the roof, and then partly restoring the roof, the walls, and the foundation. Currently, assessors have evaluated the physical state of their flat as unsatisfactory: “It can be inhabited provided capital repairs and reconstruction are carried out.” The work should cost approximately 400,000 rubles.


An excerpt from the court’s ruling on the inspection: “An inspection has established that part of the residential building (flats no. 2, 3, 4) are dilapidated. Major leaks in the roof, deformation of the walls, subsidence of the foundation, and buckling of the window frames and door frames have been detected. The walls are subject to massive worsening cracks, severe rotting, and penetration by draughts and frost. Flats no. 2, 3, 4 are not heated. Their furnaces and chimneys have been destroyed. The wiring is in disrepair, and the load-bearing structures are dilapidated and partly destroyed. The dilapidation of the load-bearing structures in flats no. 2, 3, 4 has caused the deformation and destruction of the adjacent walls and ceiling beams in flat no. 1, and consequently the dilapidated flats should be dismantled. It is technically possible to eliminate their negative impact[.]” 

The district council has questioned the outcome of the assessment.

“Actually, the house is not currently dilapidated,” claims Dmitry Kipru, now deputy head of the Kondopoga Municipal District. “I agree that things look bad. But currently there is no danger to the Ryaziyev flat. There are all sorts of independent assessors. We could commission a second assessment and get a different finding and a different estimate.”

In court, however, the defense refrained from challenging the assessment’s objectivity.

10The adjacent flats are in this condition.

The trial spanned several hearings. The plaintiff was present for all of them except the final hearing. Ryaziyeva would often have to get up at night, in the dark, to go to the train station to catch the train that would bring her to Kondopoga at five in the morning—sometimes only to hear that the defendant was not ready for the hearing and had asked it be postponed.

“Those trips have really worn me out over the past two years,” Ryaziyeva confesses.

In turn, Paltseva claims the defense sometimes came to hearings unprepared.

“For example, we wanted to hear the testimony of the engineer who had declared the house dilapidated. But we were constantly offered supposedly valid reasons why he could not make it to the trial. Since their lawyer was not an engineer, he could not comment on certain matters, and he would ask that the hearings be postponed. I think they were dragging things out,” says Paltseva.

Judge Olga Sysoyeva personally traveled to Käppäselgä and saw the picture with her own eyes, a picture that had earlier consisted only of testimony, documents, and photographs.

7The condition of the roof worries Ryaziyeva most of all. 

The Ryaziyevs won the lawsuit. According to the court, it was the district council’s inaction, which has the three empty flats on its books, that reduced the house to its current condition.

“The court has sufficient grounds to conclude there is a causal link between the condition of the residential building and inaction on the part of the proprietor of the council flats and the common property in the house, who has failed to carry out capital repairs,” reads the court’s ruling.

Taking into account the nature and scope of the reconstruction work and the time needed to complete it, the court set a deadline: three months from the day the ruling entered into legal force.

But this is not the end of the story. The Kondopoga District Council has appealed the ruling in the Karelian Supreme Court. In particular, according to the appeal, the defense was not satisfied the lower court had “removed the plaintiffs from equity involvement, having assigned the duty to reconstruct the multi-flat residential building singlehandedly to one of the proprietors […] the Kondopoga Muncipal District.”

During the trial, the defense attorney requested the Ryaziyevs should, in keeping with their share of the house’s overall floor space, pay 33% of the repairs. The court declined the request.

Commenting on the situation, deputy district head Kirpu repeated the demand that the Ryaziyevs co-finance the repairs, as indicated in the appellate complaint. When we asked him why no such demand had been made when he issued the decree, which was never carried out, to demolish the dilapidated flats during the spring or summer of 2017, he found it difficult to respond.

“Our lawyers vet every decree. Maybe someone overlooked something,” Kirpu speculated.

Moreover, at the end of our conversation, Kirpu informed me that money for reconstruction of the house (around 500,000 rubles) had been found among the district’s nonappropriated funds, but they had not been allocated, because the Ryaziyevs had filed suit against the council.

17Galina Ryaziyeva has to take care of her half of the house and the adjoining half of the house.

“In Karelia’s districts, people are held hostage by the inaction of the local authorities. They file lawsuits not for the fun of it, but to force councils to look for funds and fulfill their direct responsibilities in maintaining the housing stock,” argues Paltseva. “Besides, by law, a propietor can demand satisfaction if their rights have been violated, although the violations were not connected with dispossessing them of their property. A lawsuit petitioning the court to compel a defendant to act must be upheld even in cases in which the proprietor shows there is a real threat of violation of their rights due to inaction by the authorities. The assessment commissioned by the Ryaziyevs proved there was a direct causal link between the destruction of their flat and the council’s behavior. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, but Karelia is already snowbound.”

This means that 25 Central Street will have to survive yet another winter. Who knows whether the roof will hold out or the lintel will collapse. According to the Ryaziyevs, the the local council has deliberately delayed the process so that there will be nothing left to save and restore.

All photos by Maria Dmitriyeva and courtesy of 7X7. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the always reliable Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

The Toponymic Commission Strikes Back

smolninsky rayon

A 1967 public transportation map of Leningrad’s former Smolny District. The red lines and numbers indicate tramlines. Nearly all of the line were decommissioned in the late 1990s and 2000s, although they were an important lynchpin in the entire tram system, which was once the largest in the world in terms of sheer length of tracks. In the late noughties, Tram Park No. 4, located at the spot marked by the encircled red number five on the map, was demolished to makeway for a flying-saucer-topped monstrosity known as the Nevsky Rathaus, developed by a company owned by Sergei Matviyenko, son of then-Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko.
The Rathaus’s ostensible purpose was move all of the city government’s farflung committees into a single office building, but since many of the most powerful committees occupy prime downtown real estate in their own gorgeous 19th-century buildings, there is no evidence that things have gone to plan. In turn, completion of the Rathaus has set off a storm of redevelopment in the immediate vicinity, much of it involving the constructi of needlessly large and invariably ugly “elite” housing blocks. Map from the collection of the Russian Reader

“Today, November 24, the [Petersburg] Toponymic Commission will decide whether the Soviet [Sovetskye] Streets will again be called the Christmas [Rozhdestvenskye] Streets, and Insurrection Square [ploshchad Vosstaniya] will be redubbed Church of the Sign Square [Znamenskaya ploshchad]. It will finally become clear who won the Russian Civil war, the Whites or the Reds,” wrote Petersburg’s best-known pop historian in the business daily Delovoi Peterburg the other day.

Forgive me for restating obvious historical truths, but most sane people know the Reds won the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the October Revolution, and the Soviet Union, in concert with its allies the United States and Great Britain, won the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War.

The reactionaries on the Petersburg Toponymic Commission could restore the “old” names to every street in the city, including streets that appeared on the map only during the Soviet period, but they cannot alter the outcomes of historical events, especially events such as the ones I have just mentioned, which had overwhelming consequences for Russia and the world, however negatively, positively or indifferently we evaluate them today.

Besides, real local historians and history enthusiasts know that the names of many streets changed several times even during the city’s tsarist period (1703–1917), not to mention the Soviet regime, where same thing also happened quite often as the Party line and public sentiment changed from one decade to the next.

First Soviet Street, for example, had several names during the period 1766–1923: New Carriage Street [Novaya Karetnaya], Carriage Street [Karetnaya], Old Carriage Street [Staraya Karetnaya], First Christmas Street [1-ya Rozhdestvenskaya], First Street, and, finally, First Christmas Street againm, before it was renamed First Soviet Street by the Bolsheviks in 1923.

If historical justice were the Toponymic Commission’s real concern they would restore the street’s original name, New Carriage Street. Right?

Twenty years ago or so, perhaps, the Toponymic Commission was doing vital work, but nowadays it is a tool of the blackest, most virulent political reaction.

Indeed, it was also a tool of reaction twenty years ago, too, and I thus am eternally gratefully to my late father-in-law, who never deigned to call Sophia Perovskaya Street and Zhelyabov Street by their newfangled “old” names of Greater and Lesser Stable Streets [Bolshaya Konyushennaya and Malaya Konyushennaya].

Officially empowered experts who can seriously contemplate changing Insurrection Square’s name after a hundred years (a decision they ultimately nixed, although they did rename Insurrection Street [ulitsa Vosstaniya], which runs north from Insurrection Square and Nevsky Avenue to Kirochnaya Street, Church of the Sign Street [Znamenskaya ulitsa]) are sending an unambivalent message to Petersburgers that from here on out their God-given right to rebel and rise up tyrants and thugs has been confiscated, as it were, however murderous and criminal the current and subsequent regimes are.

But it is ludicrous to think it will never occur to people to revolt simply because there is no longer an Insurrection Street or Insurrection Square in their city, one of whose nicknames, in Soviet times, was the Cradle of Three Revolutions.

It is just as queer to feign that, by redubbing the Soviet Streets the Christmas Streets, there was never any Soviet period in the city’s history. The signs and symptoms of the Soviet regime—good, bad, neutral, and controversial—are literally everywhere you look. Completely erasing these signs and symptoms from the collective memory and the visible cityscape will not accelerate real democracy’s advent. On the contrary, it will probably push that happy day farther into the future.

It is the Toponymic Commission itself that should be abolished. It has long been busy rewriting history, not engaging in the non-science of toponymy. In this respect, it has aped the current regime, doing its dirty deeds under the guise of restoring what was lost or doing rhetorical combat with nonexistent malevolent forces that, allegedly, have wanted to revise the outcome of the Second World War or something equally hilarious, impossible, and utterly imaginary.

What the Toponymic Commission and the current regime really want to do is transfigure history, the study of history, and collective and individual historical memory into a total, inedible muddle. If they succeed in pulling off this trick, or so they imagine, it will be easier for them manage and manipulate people and society, and diminishing their will to write and make their own history.

nevsk rathausThe Nevsky Rathaus and its telltale flying saucer, as seen at the far end of one of the now officially former Soviet Streets. Photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. It was oh so vital to immediately rename Petersburg’s long-suffering Soviet Streets. Of course, all good Christian men and women have rejoiced in this collective decision on the part of corrupt city officials and the city’s loyal opposition. But did anyone even peep when Tram Park No. 4 on Degtyarny Allegy (in the same part of town, the Sands neighborhood, that were home to the now-disappeared Soviet Streets) was demolished and, before this, nearly the entire tram network there was dismantled?

What have Petersburgers received in compensation for the deliberate destruction of public transportation in their city? What will they receive to make up for this clear attempt to erase the Soviet past while preserving Soviet decision-making methods and leaving all of the least progressive aspects of the Soviet mindset firmly in place?

First, there was the UFO aka the Nevsky Rathaus, built by the former governor’s son. Now we have been gifted with a gift none of us really wanted, the Christmas Streets, as if this city of five million or more were populated solely by wildly devout Orthodox toponymic history enthusiasts.

In the near future, like a triple layer of icing on an sickly sweet holiday cake, we will be treated to the total “reconstruction” of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in the Sands. This is yet another unwanted gift, a gift made possible, once again, through demolition, in this case the destruction of the cosy, pretty square at the intersection of Sixth Soviet Street and Krasnobor Alley. Local residents campaigned against this so-called urban planning decision. But who the hell are local residents, and what are their opinions worth when the current reactionary regime has been intent on beating it into everyone’s head that its own provenance is nearly divine?

What is worse, the city’s semi-official historical preservation mob indulges the regime in its “religious” aspirations.

This is yet another amazing story about how the nearly perpetual muddle in the heads of the city’s “finest people” (as one commentator called them when I published an earlier version of these remarks on Facebook) produces circumstances in which Petersburg is practically defenseless against urban planning stupidities and revisionist toponymic interventions. You can visit whatever truly satanic outrages on its tender flesh you wish, and most of the so-called opposition and its mostly silent, invisible supporters will either sign on to your crazy undertaking, keep its mouth shut or immediately surrender without putting up a fight.

One of the few exceptions in recent years (the bleak years of Putin 3.0) was when a bas-relief sculpture of Mephistopheles was removed from the façade of a building on the Petrograd Side, apparently on orders from a local housing authority official. A full-fledged public hullabaloo kicked off, featuring a well-attended opposition rally outside the offended building and, ultimately, the restoration of the demonic sculpture.

You see, that was a real crime against history and historical preservation. TRR

National Unity Day Fiction

Historical Fantasy
Viktor Sigolayev, The Fatal Wheel: Crossing the Same River Twice (Alfa Kniga, 2012)

No one understood how our contemporary, an officer in the reserves and a history teacher, ended up in his own past, back in the body of a seven-year-old boy, and back in the period of triumphant, developed socialism, when, as far as our hero could remember, there was a lot more joy and happiness.

That is how an adult imagines it, but it transpires all is not as perfect in the sunny land of Childhood as the memory would suggest. It transpires that here, too, meanness and greed exist. There are thieves, bandits, and scammers of all stripes, although you did not notice them earlier, when you were a child. But now you have to do something about it. Now you have to fight it, because evil knows no obstacles in time. Enemies—cruel and insidious, clever and merciless—have again emerged on the horizon. Besides, some of them seem incredibly familiar to our hero.

So, the seven-year-old hero, who has two university degrees, combat officer experience, and a memory singed by the hard post-perestroika years, launches his own tiny war, allying himself with none other than the USSR State Security Committee [KGB]. He unexpectedly finds new friends there, the kind of friends for whom you can risk your life.

Source: LitRes

Translated by the Russian Reader

_______________________________________

Putin’s Russia can’t celebrate its revolutionary past. It has to smother it
Catherine Merridale
The Guardian
November 3, 2017

November always brings a welcome holiday for Russians. The day off work is about some great historical event, but most use it to catch up with their families. On 7 November 2017, it will be exactly 100 years since Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution, the one that people used to mark with anthems, weaponry and fireworks.

But this year’s official holiday commemorates not the revolution, but an uprising of 1612 against the Poles. National Unity Day was a tsarist invention that Vladimir Putin’s government relaunched in 2005. Marked on 4 November, its timing has been perfect. After three days on their sofas, will anyone really notice that there are no red flags?

The silence is like a dream in which the dreamer is being suffocated. Centenaries are special: everyone can count to 100. But so far Lenin and his comrades have not rated as much as a commemorative stamp. The man himself is still displayed – in a new suit – in the mausoleum on Red Square, but no one wants to talk about exactly what he did. The current Russian government makes ample use of history – no child is likely to forget the great patriotic war against fascism – but Lenin can’t be made to fit.

It is awkward enough, Moscow’s mandarins must think, that the Russian revolution was a people’s uprising against despotic rule, a fight against injustice and the gross excesses of the rich. With terrorism such a real threat, the Kremlin would be unwise to appear to condone violent revolt. Yet it can’t vilify a man whose corpse still lies in state, whose statue is a landmark in hundreds of towns. And what is it to make of Soviet power? If it condemns the Russian revolution, where does that leave Stalin and the people’s triumph?

So far the answer seems to be to keep things bland. Lenin, after all, is boringly familiar. If he will only stay that way, if young people decline to think, then even this annoying anniversary will pass. There are rumours that Russia’s new left may take to the streets this year to mark the anniversary with demonstrations, but most Russians under 50 regard the Soviet story as a dowdy relic, an embarrassment. The state wants it to stay that way, the province of those staunch old trouts who still sell apples outside metro stops. Its very language, “Soviet”, is an antique. It must be held back in the past, exiled along with dissidents, stretch nylon and bad teeth.

The Russian revolution was a moment when the veil of human culture tore. It was a season of euphoric hope, a terrifying experiment in utopia. It tested to destruction the 19th-century fantasy of progress. It was the work of tens of thousands of zealous enthusiasts.

Yet now their great-great-grandchildren are bored. This situation suits their government. A cloud of tedium hangs over any formal gathering that ventures to discuss the thing. Most choose the safest, dullest line. There is to be a round-table meeting held at [the] Smolny, for instance, the building from which Lenin launched the revolution, working around the clock. Scheduled for late November 2017, the theme will not be revolution but the centenary of Finnish independence.

I tried asking in the museums. The Russian state has preserved every relic of the revolutionary year, including Lenin’s pillow and his brother-in-law’s chess set. You can still run a finger around Stalin’s bath, the one that Lenin must have used before fleeing from Kerensky’s police. But nothing special has been planned, no big event, no cameras. The museum of Pravda, the Bolshevik party’s newspaper, is clearly short of funds. In Soviet times, schoolchildren visited in their thousands – it was part of their curriculum – but now the place relies on tourists.

To attract the schoolchildren back, the staff have been forced to adapt. “We call this the museum of tolerance,” my guide explained. “See? Everything in this room has come from somewhere in Europe. The typewriter there is German, the table is French.”

But mere avoidance doesn’t always work. A centenary of this importance is bound to be marked by someone; there has to be an official response. Ten months ago, the independent journalist Mikhail Zygar launched a website to track the events of 1917 as they unfolded, day by day. Belatedly, but with a considerably larger budget, the state-sponsored Russia Today responded with a handsome Twitter feed, lavishly illustrated with archival photographs and featuring imaginary tweets from some of the key figures of 1917. Both are useful resources, though neither has engaged with what the revolution means. That question haunts Red Square like Lenin’s ghost.

The Kremlin is saving itself for another anniversary next year. In July 1918 the Romanov family was shot. The solemn lessons of that crime are something everyone will understand. A strong state is what people need, the message goes, and Russia’s is a special one. Unlike the regimes of the west, it is not only patriotic but orthodox. That is why Nicholas II is now a saint and why his killing by the Bolsheviks was a martyrdom. Through him, right-thinking Russian people can remember every other martyr of the revolution that is now, thank heavens, safely past.

Victims unite a nation, everyone can grieve. In honour of the sacred dead (the millions, unspecified), a new cathedral has appeared in Moscow: vast, imposing, unavoidable. Help with the funds came from Putin’s close friend and confessor Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov.

In Russia now it is an idealised form of nationalism, not the people’s rule or social justice, that is feted and taught in schools. Russia is the new Byzantium, no longer proud to fly the red flag for the world.

There is one more anniversary that will not pass unmarked. The Cheka, Lenin’s feared secret police force, was founded on 18 December 1917. Its successors have included Stalin’s NKVD and the KGB of spy thrillers, but it will be the current lot, the FSB, who celebrate next month with the commemorative medals and champagne. As a lieutenant colonel in the service and its former boss, Putin could well be a star guest.

The fact that many of the revolution’s martyrs died at secret police hands is a mere detail. Lenin had no problem ordering the Cheka to carry out the wholesale execution of priests and the so-called bourgeoisie. By 1918 there were bodies piled up in the streets. But such truths are easily ignored. Shevkunov’s new cathedral to the revolution’s martyrs is itself a stone’s throw from the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square.

That just leaves Lenin and his ghost. In life a restless politician, dangerous and quick, he lies on Red Square like a stuffed fox: moth-eaten and obviously dead. As the heart of Moscow has been reinvented as an orthodox and ultra-Russian space, his mausoleum appears more and more anomalous. But though there is no wish to celebrate the man, a preserved corpse remains a tricky object to throw out. As a former Soviet citizen remarked to me: “We have certainly learned one thing from our history, haven’t we? You must be careful who you pickle.”

Catherine Merridale is a historian. Her latest book, Lenin on the Train, is published by Penguin.

Nationalist Historical Fantasy

08911958.cover_415

Historical Fantasy
Andrei Zakharov, A Crossroads in Time: The New Rossiyans (Alfa Kniga, 2012)

None of our contemporaries who decided to vacation on the shores of a mysterious lake in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone expected the trip would change their future. A natural disaster and encounters with Red Army soldiers, surrounded near Kiev in 1941, and a detachment of White Guards from 1919 were not part of their plans. But man proposes and God disposes. They did not know who wanted to test them—God or someone else—by gathering and abandoning them in the mountains of South America in the sixteenth century, during the collapse of the Inca empire and its conquest by Spanish conquistadors. But the trials that befell their lot forced all of them to unite and start a new life.

Source: LitRes

Translated by the Russian Reader

_______________________

Police, Nationalists Clash As Russians Mark National Unity Day
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 04, 2017

Police detain protesters at the nationalist march in Moscow. Police detain protesters at the nationalist march in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Riot police and nationalist demonstrators clashed in Moscow on November 4 at an antigovernment demonstration coinciding with celebrations of Russia’s National Unity Day holiday.

Police detained several demonstrators in a crowd of nationalists who had gathered in southeastern Moscow for an annual Russian March that organizers called off almost as soon as it began after police refused to allow participants to carry banners.

Organizers said authorities had granted approval for banners at the demonstration. The city government had given official permission for the rally, and hundreds of participants had gathered for the event at the time police intervened.

Video footage showed one woman being carried off in a stretcher after what a Dozhd TV reporter at the scene described as a scuffle with riot police.

A second Russian March, meanwhile, was under way in northwestern Moscow.

The standoff between police and demonstrators came at the start of a politically charged weekend in which Russians nationwide are marking National Unity Day.

The holiday, which the Kremlin established more than a decade ago, has replaced Soviet-era celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution anniversary.

This year’s holiday comes three days ahead of the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

A day before the celebrations, Russian authorities on November 3 said they had detained several backers of a self-exiled Kremlin critic in the Moscow area, claiming they were plotting to trigger riots by attacking government buildings and police during the holiday.

Russian opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev (right) at a Russian opposition rally on May 6, 2017.Russian opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev (right) at a Russian opposition rally on May 6, 2017. Photo courtesy of TASS

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the suspects are members of a “conspiratorial cell” of Artpodgotovka (Artillery Bombardment), a movement established by outspoken opposition activist Vyacheslav Maltsev.

Maltsev, who has described himself as a nationalist and anarchist, has said on YouTube that Russia is up for a “revolution” this weekend.

RBC news agency cited an unidentified Interior Ministry source as saying that a spate of additional raids targeting Maltsev’s group were carried out in Moscow and the surrounding area on early on November 4.

Russia’s state TASS news agency quoted officials as saying that more than 90,000 security personnel will be on duty for some 2,000 Unity Day events across the country.

Nationalists traditionally hold rallies on November 4, while Russians nostalgic for the Soviet Union, such as the Communists, celebrate on November 7.

National Unity Day, which President Vladimir Putin established in 2005, officially honors a Russian victory over Polish forces in 1612.

In a ceremony commemorating the event, Putin on November 4 placed flowers at the Red Square monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who are credited with leading Russian troops against the Poles.

The Treacherous Path

DSCN0735

London’s Biteback Publishers have announced that this coming spring they will be publishing an autobiographical memoir, described below the fold, by Vladimir Yakunin, one of the most corrupt men in Russia.

It’s due in no small part to the large-scale, palbable treachery of Yakuin and his ilk (i.e., the current Russian elites) that the country finds itself in such a sorry state.

But Vladimir Yakunin is made of slightly different stuff than your run-of-the-mill Putin crony because a) he has been working overtime recently to launder his ill-gotten goods squeaky clean so his family members can live comfortable lives in the west; and b) for the past fifteen years he has been running an extensive active measures operation, Dialogue of Civilizations, for coopting, suborning, and otherwise neutralizing as many top-flight international academics, decision-makers, opinion leaders, and IR experts as he possibly can.

Previously focused on eponymous annual gatherings of these VIPs, under Yakunin’s generous patronage, in Rhodes, Yakunin has now transformed Dialogue of Civilizations into a so-called reseach institute, headquartered in downtown Berlin.

He was able to do this, in part, because the EU, unlike the US, has not placed him on its sanctions list. This would be inexplicable were it not for Yakunin’s furious gladhanding of god knows how many European officials and otherwise influential people over the years.

So, he is free to run amok in the EU and UK, a hardcore Russian Orthodox nationalist and “former” KGB officer (as Putin once famously said, there is no such thing as a “former” KGB officer), ultrarich and corrupt to the gills to boot, pretending to be interested in dialoguing with movers and shakers from the remnants of the democratic world.

“A publishing house is nothing without top class authors,” Yakunin’s latest pack of enablers (useful idiots) write without apparent irony on their website.

I wonder how much Yakunin has paid them to publish the book.

Yakunin’s previous vanity press outing, 22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers, was published by New York University Press.

Although I don’t know how much that more subtly conceived pail of whitewash cost Yakuin (although that he did indeed pay for the book from his own pocket is frankly acknowledged by the book’s editors right up front), it did do the job of elevating the “former” KGB officer and now-former head of Russian Railways to the ranks of the world’s alleged “foremost thinkers,” as he was one of the twenty-two people with whom the editors conversed at length, alongside such leftist luminaries as Mike Davis and Immanuel Wallerstein.

In case you were wondering, I have never found a single review of the first book questioning the propriety of marshaling so many previously respectable figures and entities for the miserable task of making one of Vladimir Putin’s made men appear to be a respectable member of the world intellectual community.

Mum’s the word when Russian oligarchs and “former” KGB officers are footing the bill. Everyone wants to get paid and get along in life, right? TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

__________________________

The Treacherous Path
By Vladimir Yakunin

In 1991, Vladimir Yakunin, a Soviet diplomat and KGB officer, returned from his posting in New York to a country that no longer existed.

The state that he had served for all his adult life had been dissolved, the values he knew abandoned. Millions of his compatriots suffered as their savings disappeared and their previously secure existences were threatened by an unholy combination of criminality, corruption and chaos. Others thrived amid the opportunities offered in the new polity, and a battle began over the direction the fledgling state should take.

While something resembling stability was won in the early 2000s, today Russia’s future remains unresolved; its governing class divided.

The Treacherous Path is Yakunin’s account of his own experiences on the front line of Russia’s implosion and eventual resurgence, and of a career – as an intelligence officer, a government minister and for ten years the CEO of Russia’s largest company – that has taken him from the furthest corners of this incomprehensibly vast and complex nation to the Kremlin’s corridors.

Tackling topics as diverse as terrorism, government intrigue and the reality of doing business in Russia, and offering unparalleled insights into the post-Soviet mindset, this is the first time that a figure with Yakunin’s background has talked so openly and frankly about his country.

Source: Biteback Publishing

This Is Russia

DSCN0810

“This is Russia. This is the Russia that Americans are so scared of.”

In the background of this photo, you can make out the Galereya shopping mall, located in downtown Petersburg. It’s gigantic, covering the land once occupied by five or six graceful tenement buildings and a cultural center and cinema. They were demolished in the mid 1990s, not to make way for the shopping mall, but so a new train station could be built there, jeek by jowl with the existing Moscow Station, because federal and regional officials wanted to build a high-speed train line between Petersburg and Moscow. Millions of dollars were allocated for the project, but ultimately, the train line was never built nor was the new station erected. No one knows what happened to the millions of dollars allocated for the project. They simply vanished into thin air.

The site of the former-future high-speed train station sat vacant for many years behind a tall, ugly construction-site fence. No one could figure out what do to with all that wasteland, which was in the very heart of the city, not in some forgotten outskirts. However, before the money had vanished, and the project was abandoned, construction workers had managed not only to demolish all the tenement buildings on the site but had also dug a foundation pit. Over the long years, this pit filled up with water. Some time after Google Maps had become all the rage, I took a look at our neighborhood via satellite, as it were, and discovered to my great surprise it now had a small lake in it. It was the foundation pit of the former-future high-speed train station, filled to the brim with water.

Good times came to Petersburg in the 2000s, when the country was flush with cash, generated by high oil prices, a flat tax rate of 13%, and runaway corruption. It was then the city’s mothers and fathers (I’m not being ironic: most of Petersburg’s “revival” was presided over by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a former Communist Youth League functionary who had converted to the gospel of what she herself called “aggressive development”) decided that Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful, haunting, enchanting cities, should be extensively redeveloped, despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mecca of consumerism that would give pride of place to cars and new highways, since cars had become the new status symbol among the city’s rich and poor alike. They also decided that, since other big cities in the world had lots of high-rise buildings, their city, which did not have almost any high-rise buildings, should have lots of them, too.

Basically, they decided to demolish as much of the inner and outer city as they could get away with—and they could get away with a lot, because they had nearly unlimited political power and lots of the country’s money at their disposal—and redevelop it with high-rise apartment buildings, superhighways, big box stores, and shopping and entertainment centers, each one uglier and bigger than the last. Thanks to their efforts, in a mere fifteen years or so they have gone a long way toward turning a Unesco World Heritage Site into an impossible, unsightly mess.

But let’s get back to our miniature inner-city lake. Finally, developers came up with a plan to convert the site into a giant shopping mall. Even better, the architects who designed the mall were clearly inspired by Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and a leading Nazi Party member, to turn a rather oversized mall into a celebration of kitsch faux-neoclassicism, precisely the sort of thing Speer had championed in his projects. This, indeed, was a bit ironic, because Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, had survived a 900-day siege by the German army during the Second World War. Considered the longest and most destructive siege in history, it killed at least 800,000 civilians, that is, it killed the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the people who now enjoy visiting this mall, with its distinctly neo-fascist aesthetic.

Along the sides of the street running down towards the photographer from the Albert Speer Memorial Shopping Mall, you see lots of shiny new, fairly expensive cars, parked bumper to bumper. In fact, the Albert Speer has a huge underground car park where you can park your car relatively inexpensively (our neighbor lady, a sensible woman, does it), but most Petersburg car owners actually think parking their cars wherever they want—especially either right next to their residential buildings or, worse, in the tiny, labyrinthine, incredibly charming inner courtyards of these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings—is their legal right. It isn’t, but they don’t know it or don’t want to know it. I know they think this way because many Petersburg car owners have told me so.

To my mind, the precipitous rise in personal car ownership in Petersburg has done more to degrade the city’s beauty than all the underinspired colossal high-rises put together, because the city was purposely designed by its original builders, beginning with Peter the Great, to have a good number of intersecting and radiating, awe-inspiring, long and clear sightlines or “perspectives.” Hence, many of the city’s longest avenues are called “prospects,” such as Nevsky Prospect (the title of one of Nikolai Gogol’s best stories) and Moskovsky Prospect. Nowadays, however, you gaze down these “perspectives” only to see traffic jams and hectares of other visual pollution in the shape of signs, billboards, banners, and marquees. It’s not a pretty sight.

On the right of the picture, somewhere near the middle, you should be able to spot a small shop sign with the letters “AM” emblazoned on it. It’s one of the dozens of liquor stores that have popped up in our neighborhood after the Kremlin introduced its countersanctions against US and EU sanctions, which were instituted in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. The US and EU sanctions targeted individuals and companies closely allied with the regime. Putin’s countersanctions, in a manner that has come to seem typical of how the Russian president for life’s mind works, were targeted against Russian consumers by banning the import of most western produce into the country. An exception was made for western alcoholic beverages, especially wines and beers, and this meant it was suddenly profitable again to get into the liquor business. The upshot has been that you can exit our house, walk in any direction, even putting on a blindfold if you like, and you will find yourself in a liquor store in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Last summer, I tried painting a little verbal and photographic sketch of the effect this massive re-alcoholization has had on our neighborhood, along with other, mostly negative trends in the use and abuse of commercial space in the city.

Finally, there is one other thing you should know about all those new, mostly oversized cars parked on the street. Since the average monthly salary in Russia barely crawls above 600 or 700 euros a month, even in a seemingly wealthy city like Petersburg, most of those gas-guzzling, air-polluting status symbols were bought with borrowed money.

Just the other day, in fact, I translated and posted a tiny article, originally published in the business daily Kommersant, about how people in the Voronezh Region currently owed banks approximately two billion euros in outstanding loans. In 2015, the region’s estimated population was around 2,300,000, so, theoretically, each resident of Voronezh Region now owes the banks 870 euros, which I am sure is more than most people there earn in two or three months. Of course, not every single resident of Voronezh Region has taken out a loan, so the real damage incurred by real individual borrowers is a lot worse.

I could be wrong, but I think what I have just written gives you a rough idea of how you go about reading photographs of today’s Russian cities, their visible aspect in general, turning a snapshot into something meaningful, rather than assuming its meaning is obvious, right there on the surface. You don’t just tweet a photo of a new football stadium or fancy restaurant or street jammed with expensive cars and make that stand for progress, when progress, whether political, economic or social, really has not occurred yet in Russia, despite all the money that has been sloshing around here the last fifteen years. Instead, you talk about the real economic, political, and social relations, which are often quite oppressive, murky, and criminal, that have produced the visible reality you want to highlight.

Doing anything less is tantamount to engaging in boosterism, whataboutism, Russian Worldism, and crypto-Putinism, but certainly not in journalism. That so many journalists, western and Russian, have abandoned real journalism for one or all of the isms I have listed is the really scary thing. TRR

Photograph by the Russian Reader

 

 

 

Barnaul: Living under the Threat of Demolition

Living under the Threat of Demolition
Andrei Bespalov
Takie Dela
September 20, 2017

Around 200 residential buildings have been deemed unfit for habitation in Barnaul. But people have gone on living in them for many years. 

Four years ago, in July 2013, an apartment building collapsed in broad daylight. A 64-year-old woman and 60-year-old man died under the rubble. The other residents were “only” deprived of their papers and property, left without a roof over their heads. The neighboring houses are still standing, although they are much more dilapidated.

Currently, Barnaul, the capital of Altai Territory, has officially deemed around 200 apartment houses dilapidated or unfit for habitation. No one can tell you the exact number of buildings that could collapse at any minute. It would be a huge exaggeration to say that officials at the mayor’s office are worried about preventing another tragedy.

In 2013, the ruins of the house on Emilia Alexeyeva Street were hurriedly demolished, and now the local boys play football on the empty lot. A criminal investigation into “official negligence” was opened, but quickly closed.

“We were unable to find anyone at fault or evidence of a crime,” Yevgeny Dolgayev, head of the investigative department in the Russian Investigative Committee’s Altai Territory office said at the time.

Пустырь на месте рухнувшего дома в 2013 годуEmpty lot where the house collapsed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

But people live in their collapsing houses, afraid of the spreading cracks in the walls and accustomed to picking up chunks of façade that have crumbled and fell to the ground. Residents of the dilapidated buildings see no way out of their circumstances.

Quite Tolerable
A huge number of houses have been condemned in Barnaul’s Potok microdistrict. They are primarily two-storey buildings, with one or two staircases, built after 1945 in the 1950s, mainly by Japanese POWs. The city grew rapidly in the postwar years. It was built quickly as well, and the builders did not especially bother to observe construction standards.

People have fought for years to have their homes declared dilapidated. Those who have succeeded are far and few between.

As late as last year, the residential building at Timurovskya Street, 44, was in excellent condition, according to inspectors. This year, on the contrary, it was declared 86% dilapidated.

You would imagine the building should be demolished, its residents moved out, and a tragedy avoided, but that means looking for funding and building new housing.

It is much simpler to feign, year after year, that these houses and people do not exist. However, sometimes, the so-called populace is made vague promises so they will stop pestering officials for a while.

At first glance, nothing has changed on Timurovskaya Street over the last four years. The dilapidated houses with missing chunks of plaster that has fallen off still stand where they stood then. They are not ruins. But if you look a little closer you will notice the foundation has crumbled in one part of the house, while the brickwork has disintegrated in another, and a crack runs from the sidewall through the entire building.

“That’s nothing! The juicy parts are inside,” says an elderly man who looks like a local. We introduce ourselves. Alexei Oleynik is 76 years old, a retired electrician who worked for nearly fifty years in the trade. He was allocated a flat at Timurovskaya, 44, in the early 1970s when his son was born.

Алексей ОлейникRetired electrician Alexei Oleynik. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

It really is “juicier” inside the building.  A piece of fiberboard has been glued to the ceiling in the entryway.

“The ceiling beams here collapsed in winter,” explains Oleynik. “Workers cleaning the snow from the roof were careless and caused the accident.”

According to Oleynik, they were not all that much to blame: the ceiling beams had rotted long ago. The management got a dressing-down from city bosses and sent over other workers, who patched up the hole with fiberboard and left the site with a clean conscience.

Oleynik’s neighbor Olga Pautova is indignant.

“Well, of course, it’s no one’s fault! The heating system had burst in the attic again. The ceiling beams sagged for three months or so, gradually swelling, until they collapsed. People from the management company and city hall would come and look at this bubble. They would say, ‘What can we do? You all don’t have it bad. It’s much worse in other buildings.’ That was really comforting, of course.”

Pautova bought a flat in the building ten years earlier. The house had seemed quite tolerable. But soon it crumbled right before her eyes. First, there were small cracks, then the cracks became more serious.

“I have no light in either room,” says Pautova. “The wiring short-circuited and burnt out. It was a good thing I was home. I turned off the power and called an electrician. He went up into the attic. He said there were moisture and leaks everywhere up there, so it was pointless to install new wiring. It would also short-circuit and burn, and it would be a good thing if that was all that happened. A year and a half ago, large chunks of the ceiling collapsed in the living room, right on the sofa, where my brother, who was visiting me at the time, had been sleeping. It’s a good thing it didn’t happen at night. My brother had already got up.”

Ольга ПаутоваOlga Pautova. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

“I patched up the hole. It didn’t last for long. The ceiling collapsed again. The management company offered to cover the hole with a piece of fiberboard, as they had in the entryway. I rejected their offer. It’s utter rubbish. I have been up in the attic. Everything up there really has rotted. The ceiling beams have been fastened to something with wire. There’s still a hole in the living room ceiling. Rubbish and leaks are constantly pouring through it. I sweep and wash it all up every day, but what is the point? There are mushrooms [sic] growing there,” says Olga.

As a rule, old residential buildings have a single-pipe heating system installed in the attic rather than the basement. The pipes are old and rusty, and they burst often, leaving the ceiling sagging in five minutes and flooding the flats with boiling water. It is a good thing if someone is at home. They can run up to the attic and switch off the water.

Will It Collapse or Not?
People are eager to discuss the topic of when the house will collapse. They say the building at Emilia Alexeyeva Street, 33 (a mere two minutes’ walk from their house) looked better, but it collapsed anyway.

A year ago, the residents of Timurovskaya Street, 44, chipped in and commissioned a private inspection of their building, hoping it would be declared dilapidated and they could count on resettlement. They got the results of the inspection back quickly, but they were just the opposite of what they had hoped for. According to residents, the inspector hastily examined the house and issued a finding it was in “excellent” condition.

Olga Pautova decided to fight till the bitter end and paid Tercet, a design and engineering company, for another inspection out of her own pocket. Their analyst took three months carrying out his inspection. He measured the size of the crack running through the entire building and recorded its growth. According to his calculation, the house was 86% dilapidated. 65% dilapidation is enough for a house to be deemed dilapidated and unfit for habitation.

Дом № 44 по улице ТимуровскойTimurovskaya Street, 44. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

According to Pautova, the municipal interdepartmental commission for housing assessment, at which the outcome of Tercet’s inspection were presented, was dead set against granting Timurovskaya, 44, the status of dilapidated building. However, Tercet’s analyst had fight in him.

“According to my calculations,” he insisted, “it is dangerous to live in this building. I’ve done my job. It’s up to you to react to the outcome of my evaluation, to declare the house dilapidated or not. But you will be responsible for what happens.”

The commission’s members had no desire to take on that kind of responsibility, and in June of this year the house was declared dilapidated. Residents have been receiving “letters of happiness,” signed by Barnaul’s Deputy Mayor Alexander Alexeyenko, in which he demands the house should be demolished no later than June 21, 2018.

Galina Buloychik is skeptical about the news from the mayor’s office.

“I don’t believe they will demolish the house and issue us new flats. It’s useless. The house will collapse with me in it, and that will be the end of it. That is what is meant to be,” says the 69-year-old woman, who shares a flat with two of her children and her grandchildren.

“I do give a damn,” says her daughter Anna, interrupting. “I have children, and the building is crumbling right before our eyes. You always hear a creaking sound, as if the house were not standing still. My brother installed a PVC window. It would close at first, just like it should have, but now have a look. You cannot close the sash. That means the building has sagged, but somehow crookedly. Don’t pay any mind to the fact the walls in the rooms are even. We covered them with gypsum plasterboard, as if we were doing real repairs. But there is a nightmare underneath them. I saw you taking a picture of the crack that runs from the sidewall of the house. It’s hidden beanth the plasterboard, as if it weren’t there.”

When we were saying goodbye, a photo fell from a chest of drawers. I picked it up and put it back.

“That was me when I was young,” Buloychik explained. “Was I beautiful?”

“You were.”

“Really?”

The Sky in Diamonds
House No. 38, also on Timurovskaya Street, is even famous in a way. In April, the roof beams collapsed and you could see the sky through the hole that formed, as if the building had its own planetarium. Reporters came, TV channels shot footage, the city bosses made calls, all to gaze through the hole. It was also patched up with fiberboard, but not in one piece. Several overlapping pieces were used. When it rains, you do not leave your flat and go into the stairwell without an umbrella.

But to get such minimal care the house’s tenants had to bow and scrape to the management company and city officials. They could have done nothing at all. So, the verdict of the officials in the mayor’s office was that the collapse of the roof beams in the stairwell occurred, most likely, not because the house was dilapidated, but due to repairs: the beams in the attic were being replaced. Since, at the time, the building had not been officially deemed dilapidated, it was the responsibility of residents who owned their flats to fix the problem or the management company’s, seeing as how residents pay them for the building’s maintenance. Only how much money can you make off a two-storey house inhabited primarily by pensioners? Besides, the companies responsible for the maintenance in their building change so rapidly you don’t have time to remember what they are called.

Svetlana Balchis, a resident of Timurovskaya, 38, recounts the accident.

“I got a call at work. I came running home. Horror of horrors! The stairway was piled up to the railings with chunks of slate, broken brick, mangled boards, slag, and shingles. I live on the second floor, and I barely made my way through the wreckage. My youngest daughter was supposed to come home from school at the time. I nearly lost my mind until I got home.”

Fortunately, her daughter arrived home later. Subsequently, Balchis learned that shortly before the beams collapsed, two young mothers had agreed to take their toddlers out for a walk together. One of them, Balchis’s next-door neighbor, was held up at home for five minutes or so. If she had left earlier, the ceiling would have fallen on her and her toddler in his stroller.

Жилец одного из домов в БарнаулеResident of a house in Barnaul. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

“Before that, I don’t know many times we called the management company and the mayor’s office: the roof leaked as if there were no roof. In winter, it was still okay, but the snow began to melt in February. There was a lot of it on the roofs: it had been a quite snowy winter. The day before, the Emergencies Ministry guys had done a drive-through inspection, and they ordered the management companies to clean the snow off the roofs right away. The workers fell through the roof! Everything up there had rotted, after all. We have been fighting to get it fixed since 2001,” recounts Balchis.

Balchis has lived in the building since birth. She was brought there from the maternity hospital in 1959. She grew up there, then had three kids, two of whom are grown-ups and live on their own. It was her father who was allocated the flat as an employee of  Central Heating and Power Plant No. 2, which, in the 1950s, built several houses for employees. Balchis says it was a fine house as long as the power plant’s own maintenance office took care of it. The dilapidation began when the building was turned over to the city.

“Do you know how the furniture in our flat stands? At an angle to the floor. That’s the only way to keep the doors shut, because the floor slopes, although it used to be as even as could be. If we put something under one edge, the doors don’t jam. It doesn’t last for long, though, and then we have to put something else under it, something bigger,” says Balchis.

Some tenants of Timurovskaya, 38, decided to replace their old windows with PVC windows. Measurers came to have a look.

“You don’t need to replace your windows,” they said. “If we touch the wall now, it will collapse.”

Elena Romanova has joined the conversation.

“Until the roof started to collapse, and the boiler rusted, it was tolerable. But, in the winter, boiling water poured into the basement, sent off steam, and the walls would freeze. All that needed to be done was change the boiler valve. But we were told they didn’t have the money to do it. So the foundation burst. The building literally came unravelled. I have a crack in the wall in my hallway. I could run my hand through it. They covered it with plasterboard, but what’s the use?” she says.

“I have the same trouble,” says Balchis.  “Between my flat and the neighbor’s flat you could suddenly hear everything perfectly. I removed the rug from the wall, and there I found a crack as wide as the palm of my hand.”

It’s Your Problem, So You Demolish It 
The tenats of Timurovskaya, 38, also received notifications their building had been deemed dilapidated and should, therefore, be resettled. But hardly anyone believes it will happen. They doubt they will get new housing a year from now. They say that other buildings that received similar letters have been waiting years for demolition.

“The building next door has also been declared dilapidated, but hasn’t been resettled. And in that one, too, and that one, and that one. The tenants in that building way over then have been evicted, but I don’t where they went, since they were not allocated flats and are waiting for them,” Balchis says as she points in different directions.

“But we must do it ourselves!” says Romanova. “We have to find a developer ourselves who would buy the land plot under the house.”

Дом № 38 по улице ТимуровскойTimurovskaya Street, 38. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

It is true that, in the letter from the mayor’s offices, it says in black and white, “Dear Housing Owner Elena Pavlovna! In accordance with Article 32, Paragraph 10, of the Russian Federal Housing Code, we demand that the dilapidated house be demolished before June 21, 2018.”

“Meaning, the city demands that I demolish my own building. Should I make my own arrangements with a construction company? Hire an excavator? Where should I move all my neighbors? If they sent a letter like that, it’s pointless to expect help from the mayor’s office,” Romanova argues.

No one here counts on help from the federal program for overhauling apartment buildings, either. They do not believe such happiness will shine on them. Several years, when the federal program had just been launched, the tenants of Timurovskaya, 38, were told they had been slotted into the program for 2018.  That is, they should have only a year left to wait. Recently, however, they decided to check up on the program’s progress. They called the mayor’s office and were told they had been rescheduled for 2025. The overhaul of Timurovskaya, 44, had also been postponed (to 2022), although right after the collapse of Emilia Alexeyeva, 33, the mayor’s office had promised to resettle the tenants of the building next door, Emilia Alexeyeva, 31, and the tenants of Timurovskaya, 44.

Take the Old Woman Outside at Least Once in a While
Every weekend, Lydia Kostomarova is a hostage. The building is empty: all her neighbors are at their dachas, everyone in Timurovskaya, 38. Kostomarova is ninety. She lives alone. She has been living in the building since it was built in 1957.

“I haven’t complained to anyone my whole life or asked for help. My husband died when he was forty-eight: cancer consumed. I have loved only one man in my life. Then Mom passed away. She lay paralyzed on that bed over there for seven years. She forgot how to talk. I bought her an alphabet and taught her to talk again using letters and pictures.

Лидия КостомароваLydia Kostomarova. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

“I looked after her, worked, and raised the kids. It was tolerable: it was all part of life. But then I had an accident. I went to the shop when the ground was covered in black ice. I fell and broke my hip in three places. The doctors said I couldn’t have an operation, because my heart couldn’t take it. Lord, why, oh why did you not take me away then? Now I am shut in here. I haven’t been outside for two years. But I can’t die just yet. I cannot afford it. Of course, I had been saving up for my funeral, but I spent it all on a caregiver. I paid her five thousand rubles a week. That’s more than my pension. Now I’m saving up again. Renovations? No, I’m not going to repair anything. What’s the point? The ceiling leaks, but you can’t patch it up anymore. The tank in the toilet should be changed. It’s quite old. They don’t make them like that anymore. It’s the kind that hangs on the wall over the toilet. A repairman came to look at it and said to install a new toilet he would have to pound holes in the floor and ceiling, but since the house was old, it couldn’t withstand it and would collapse.”

Kostomarova walks around the flat very slowly, leaning on her walker. Although it is painful, she walks. I ask whether the local social workers come to visit her. Maybe they bring groceries and help with the cleaning?

“Good Lord, what good am I to the social workers? Although no, that’s not true. They inquired about me once. They called from the medical clinic. They said, ‘Get a chest X-ray done, grandma.'”

“Are you making fun of me?” I said to them. “How can I go to the hospital when I can’t leave my flat and get downstairs from the second floor? And what will I take to get to this X-ray of yours?

“They were stubborn. They told me they wouldn’t give me orthopedic shoes if I didn’t do it. But it was so very painful to walk. Did I really need those shoes? Oh, those shoes came at a hefty price. I had to rent a special Italian device to get downstairs. It cost me two and half thousand rubles. But they did give me the shoes. Then I would daydream all the time about renting the device again so I could at least putter around the entryway, touch the flowers and the earth. But where would I get the money?”

“But when that building collapsed, why didn’t you move to your daughter’s place? She lives nearby. You really are like a hostage here.”

“How can I put it to you? It’s hard with her. She’s already sixty-eight, and she gets angry with me all the time, saying I love my son more. She’s stupid. How could I love him more? They’re both my kids. I’m just not used to people helping me. I’ve always counted only on myself. Dad was shot in 1938. Mom, my sister, and I lived in a bathhouse after we were kicked out of our house. Then we built a byre. Things got better and we didn’t starve. I raised kids. I used to ask the Lord to take me away, but now I think that no, I have to wait until my daughter’s house is resettled. They have it worse than we do. It’s like a barracks over there. Nine-storey buildings have been plopped down on either side, and their house is like an eyesore. When they give them new housing, I’ll die in peace. But for now I’ll go on living, because I have to. I also have grandchildren. They work in Moscow and Petersburg as managers? Did I get that right? I’m hanging in there. What else can I do if the Lord won’t take me. Look what cucumbers have grown on the balcony? I love the earth so much, and flowers, but you see I’ve been locked up inside four walls.”

I left. Kostomarova was already out on the balcony, standing and smiling amid the lush thickets of her cucumbers. It was a mere three meters, no more, from the front garden under her windows, with its luxurious golden balls of gladioli, to Kostomarova’s flat. Three meters to happiness. You would imagine social services could have helped. All she needed to get downstairs was that same Italian wheelchair. They could take the old woman outside at least once in a while.

Двор в БарнаулеA yard in Barnaul. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitsyn/TD

An old woman in a colorful flannel dressing gown calls to me.

“Did you go see Kostomarova? The whole neighborhood knows you. You want to help resettle us? Oh, you’re so young and naive. Here is what I have to say to you. Those guys from the mayor’s office are only waiting for everything here to fall to pieces. You saw that building over there collapsed? The people who died there were young: a man and woman who were in their early sixties. They had years ahead of them. It’s terrible to remember how the children crawled in the ruins and howled. I think that if all our buildings, these ones here, built after the war, were to collapse the same day, and we all died under the ruins, those guys from the mayor’s office would only rejoice. The excavators would have the bricks and us cleaned up in a jiffy, and they could build nine-storey buildings to their heart’s content. People are moving to the city: they need a place to live. But we are a burden to them: we old people and our old houses. What is my name? I don’t want to tell you. I don’t need the trouble. But I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Every time we get together, everyone says in unison, ‘If we and our houses vanished, they would be so glad.'”

Blame It on the Snow
According to official data, 319 residential buildings have been declared dilapidated in Altai Territory, 183 of them in Barnaul. All of them are subject to demolition, since they are unfit for habitation. Most of these buildings are in the Potok and VRZ districts, the old city center, and Soviet Army Street. There are also many dilapidated houses in Biysk and Rubtsovsk.

In 2017, there were particularly many emergencies in February and March, when a lot of snow had amassed on the roofs, snow packed down by above-freezing temperatures. The old housing stock cracked at the seams. In Barnaul, the roof of the two-storey building on Telephone Street, 30, collapsed under the weight of snow. In Biysk, part of the wall of Leningrad Street, 22, collapsed, while part of the wall and facade of Socialist Street, 34, collapsed. These are only a few examples of the houses that were destroyed.

“After we got the letters, we called the mayor’s office,” says Svetlana Balchis. “We were told that if Putin extended the program, they would begin resettling.”

Translated by the Russian Reader