Granddad’s Hut

Granddad’s Hut
Alexei Yerofeyev
June 9, 2017
Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti

Дедова будка | Внучка Игнатия Малаховича Ерофеева Вера Дмитриевна возле дедовой будки. Фото 2016 г. ФОТО из семейного архива
Ignaty Yerofeyev’s granddaughter, Vera, next to her grandfather’s hut in central Petersburg, 2016. Photo courtesy of Yerofeyev family archive/Sankt-Petersburgskie Vedomosti 

Our city contains many details, sometimes curious trifles that impart a homeyness and simplicity to its “austere, comely look,” to a city that is sometimes uptight and business-like. Among them was the tiny wooden house that stood for over sixty year at Lomonosov Street, 9, behind the fence next to the old entrance to the Refrigeration Industry Institute.

This unpretentious hut, which resembled the huts you see nowadays on garden plots in the countryside outside the city, was partly a matter of pride to me, since it was a rare specimen of wooden construction in the heart of the city, and its designer was my granddad Ignaty Malakhovich Yerofeyev. Neither an architect nor even a carpenter, Ignaty was an ordinary caretaker.

Ignaty and his family arrived in Leningrad in 1929 from the village of Gogolevka, Smolensk Region, having left behind the house he had built there. Physically strong, thrifty, and intelligent, he had got his family away from the collectivization campaign. In Leningrad, he took a job as a caretaker. At first, the family had to live in a basement.

The family survived the Siege of Leningrad. Granddad remained at his job, while my father, who was fourteen years old in 1941, worked in a factory. Their peasant skills came in handy in the spring of 1942, when all the land in the institute’s yard was repurposed into vegetable gardens.

Only after the war did the family get permission to move into an apartment on Lomonosov Street, 9, to which its former occupants had not returned. This house was my home, just like the yard, in which there were three whole gardens. The poplars growing in them were also planted by my granddad and his friend Grandpa Kostya, who had also arrived from Gogolevka during the year of the so-called Great Break (velikii perelom).

Built by Ignaty Malakhovich in the early post-war years, the little house by the gate was the caretaker’s hut, which housed his scant collection of equipment. When I was born, Granddad was already retired, but he still really enjoyed relaxing on the bench he had placed next to the hut.

In 1968, the institute’s residential building was resettled and enlarged, and the little garden were practically destroyed. The hut, which was all we ever called it, was vacant for several years. Later, it was turned into a gatehouse, before becoming a security checkpoint in the 1990s. It was slightly rebuilt. The porch was removed, and it was repainted from green to brown.

Walking down Lomonosov Street, I always enjoyed looked at our family relic. The last time I passed through this familiar place, in April of this year, I was disappointed to see the old gatehouse was gone, replaced by a cheap-looking construction trailer.

I entered my old yard. A security guard immediately emerged from the depths of the yard and demanded I leave the premises. When I asked him where the hut had gone, he replied, “It was taken away for restoration.” I didn’t believe it. Soon I repeated the same route and stopped by the yard again. The run-in with the guard was repeated, although another man was on duty. Surprisingly, he also said the hut had been taken away for restoration.

“Can’t you see this is a temporary shed?” the security guard exclaimed angrily.

His angry question was music to my ears. Oh, how wonderful it would be if Granddad’s hut were returned to its place.

Alexei Yerofeyev is a board member of the Petersburg Union of Amateur Local Historians. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists

Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman's ID, Art of Foto Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery
Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass, ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery

This morning I got an urgent message from a friend, alerting me to the fact a funny sounding exhibition of photographs was underway at a downtown photo gallery I had never heard of.

It was true, as my friend pointed out, that the announcement for the show, an exhibition of portraits of Eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist fighters (opolchentsy), taken by Petersburg photographer Mikhail Domozhilov, sounded quite dicey politically, as posted on the website of the exhibiting gallery, ARTOFFOTO.

It sounded a little less outwardly partisan when translated into English and printed on the flyers I would later find lying on a windowsill in the gallery:

“The self-proclaimed and still unrecognized state [of the] Donetsk People’s Republic appeared as a result of a civil war in Ukraine in April, 2014. The Donbass People’s Militia became the driving force of the new republic. In the year that passed after the declaration of the DPR, its militia transformed from an anarchic group of super activists [sic] divided into small groups and willing to go weaponless and die for an idea into a regular army with all its necessary attributes—[a] code [of military conduct], subdivisions [sic] and their chiefs, headquarters and machinery.

“This episode is about transition and transformation, about a shaky equilibrium between belonging to one country and to another, utopic in its essence. And also about the self-identification of the participants throughout the conflict. In several months former miners, builders, mechanics have become professional warriors, and a new, extreme reality has replaced the ordinary one. With major destruction[], artillery shelling and [a] non-continuous front, these people suddenly found themselves in the middle of historical events and news reports.

“This episode includes several close-up portraits of militia members in mobile studios at military and training bases, as well as on [the] frontlines.”

(English-language flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass [Opolchenskii Bilet], ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 1, Saint Petersburg, January 15–February 3, 2016)

It was also true that the photographer, Mr. Domozhilov, had shown a penchant in his career for subjects that might be characterized as rightist, such as this fascinating series on the ultras for Petersburg’s Russian Premier League side, FC Zenit.

The ultras series featured virtuosic albeit historically and aesthetically coded works such as this.

domozhilov-terrace
Mikhail Domozhilov, From the series Ultras, 2010. Courtesy of the photographer’s website

On the other hand, Mr. Domozhilov’s tearsheets included portraits, just as compelling, of pro-Ukrainian fighters on the Maidan in Kyiv.

But I did not think it fair to pronounce judgement on the work on the basis of a couple of websites, so I set off into the winter wonderland that Petrograd has become in the last week to see the show for myself.

Continue reading “A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists”

Pushkin Weaponized

ViewFileAlexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin was like the Prophet Elijah or something, and a Putinist avant la lettre, according to Sergei Nekrasov, director of the National Pushkin Museum in Petersburg, as quoted by the dubious FAN (Federal News Agency):**

Пушкин предугадал постоянные столкновения с Западной Европой и вообще с Западом. Он предугадал бездуховное, но мощное и наступательное развитие Северо-Американских Соединенных Штатов, как тогда говорили. Он не питал иллюзий по поводу США. Все говорили: «Ах, новая страна! Демократия!» — и так далее. Но Пушкин в своих записках в этом крепко усомнился.

[“Pushkin foresaw the constant clashes with Western Europe and the West in general. He foresaw the soulless but powerful and aggressive evolution of the United States of North America, as they were then called. He had no illusions about the United States. Everyone said, ‘Ah, a new country! Democracy!’ and so on. But in his memoirs Pushkin strongly questioned this.”]

sergei nekrasov

Sergei Nekrasov

Today, June 6, is Pushkin’s birthday, by the way. If the great poet had not been gunned down by French national Georges d’Anthès in 1837 as part of a plot engineered by fifth columnists, foreign agents, and foreign-funded local NGOS, he would have been 216 today and still, no doubt, thrilling us with his poignant verses and chilling prophecies.

Maybe he would have even been a contestant on the reality TV show Битва экстрасенсов (Battle of the Psychics).

Thanks to KV, a true connoisseur of Russian language and literature, for the heads-up.

** She pointed to a board that displayed a makeshift directory of the building’s current occupants. The names were printed out on small scraps of paper, and none of them were Internet Research. But I did recognize one: “FAN,” or Federal News Agency. I had read some news articles claiming that FAN was part of a network of pro-Kremlin news sites run out of 55 Savushkina, also funded by Evgeny Prigozhin. Former Internet Research Agency employees I had spoken to said they believed FAN was another wing of the same operation, under a different name. I asked to speak to someone from FAN. To my surprise, the receptionist picked up the phone, spoke into it for a few seconds and then informed us that Evgeny Zubarev, the editor in chief of FAN, would be right out to meet us. (Adrian Chen, “The Agency,” The New York Times Magazine, June 2, 2015)