Vrio!

brail-1.jpg

Alexander Beglov was appointed the acting governor of Petersburg or vrio (to coin the acronym for such officials who “temporarily carry out the duties” of one office or another) on October 3, 2018.

His appointment immediately sparked speculation the Kremlin had put him in charge of Putin’s hometown not only temporarily but also so he could run for the post “legitimately” in the upcoming gubernatorial election, scheduled for September 8, 2019.

As luck would have it, the seven-year reign of his predecessor, the dull but mostly inoffensive Georgy Poltavchenko, was blessed by relatively snowless winters.

Petersburg, however, is the northernmost major city in the world and, unsurprisingly, it sometimes snows a lot there in the winter. The “anomalous winter” of 2010–11, during which the local authorities could not get a handle on cleaning relatively heavy snowfalls from streets, pavements, and roofs, spurring wild popular discontent, famously led to the dismissal of then-Governor Valentina Matviyenko and her replacement by the quieter Poltavchenko.

Like all members of Putin’s clique of made men and women, Matviyenko was not punished for her failures. Instead, she was “upmoted” (my term) to the much cushier post of speaker of the Federation Council. There she has been instrumental, I suspect, in persuading the press and the public she presides over a “senate,” peopled by “senators,” not a rubber-stamp entity filled with repellent losers too big to fail who have been rewarded generous sinecures in exchange for total loyalty.

In any case, today’s would-be Russian “senate” is a far cry from the feisty and, at times, mildly separatist Federation Council of the nineties, whose members would never have been so obnoxious as to style themselves “senators” and then get everyone else to go along with this sycophantic malarkey, including opposition activists, reporters, and academics who should know better.

The winter of 2018–19 was another “anomaly,” apparently, and vrio (interim governor) Beglov made it even worse by behaving even more brazenly and clumsily than Matviyenko had done during her own “snow apocalypse.”

You would think the Kremlin would not be so provocative as to shove Beglov, who looks remarkably like Mel Brooks in his salad days, playing the “villain” in one of his hilarious film parodies, down the throats of Petersburgers on Election Day 2019, but that is the plan. All the stops have been pulled out, including a total purge of opposition candidates attempting to run for seats on the city’s district municipal councils, although these underfunded, powerless bodies that have zero say over the Smolny, Petersburg’s city hall, where Beglov and his team call the shots.

The Kremlin is willing to make Beglov the city’s “legitimate” governor over everyone’s dead bodies, as it were, alienating even more otherwise apolitical Petersburgers from the regime.

Finally and, perhaps, apropos of nothing, has anyone ever remarked on the fact that both Beglov and Poltavchenko were born in Baku in the mid-1950s? Does it snow there in the winter?

The picture, above, was taken by Kseniya Brailovskaya in downtown Petersburg during the height of the municipal collapse this past winter. As another heat wave envelopes Europe, you will probably see more of these snapshots in the coming days, especially since I have a post or two in the works about the flagrant purges of opposition candidates in Petersburg. They have mirrored similar purges in Moscow, but without sparking spontaneous unrest of the weekend before last or the heavily attended protest rally that took place in the capital on Saturday{TRR}

_______________________________________________

Rotunda
Telegram
July 16, 2019

A friendly meeting between the heads of over twenty Petersburg media outlets and acting Governor Alexander Beglov took place in the Smolny. The meeting was cast as a campaign event at which heated discussions were not welcome.

During the first hour, Beglov cheerfully talked about all the problems he had solved. He said his priority has been to combat depression among Petersburgers. Beglov thanked, in all seriousness, the opposition for keeping him on his toes and informing him about hotspots.

Then followed several questions from the attendees. The most pointed question was, “How can we help you?” or something like that. Despite being a candidate in the gubernatorial race, Beglov was not taken aback by this offer and spent another hour outlining his plans for the near term.

The only question that knocked the vrio off his high horse had to do with the scandals surrounding the elections to the municipal district councils. Beglov said he could not intervene since he himself was a candidate.

As the meeting drew to a close, the heads of the city’s media outlets asked whether Beglov would be willing to meet with reporters in a similar format in the future. Beglov said he would definitely talk with everyone but only after September 8.

Translated by the Russian Reader

It’s All Free for the ROC

Dmitry_Medvedev_and_metropolitan_Varsonofius.jpegDmitry Medvedev, then President of Russia, and Varsonofius, then Metropolitan of Saransk, during National Unity Day in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Free for the ROC: Petersburg City Hall Allocates Two Land Plots for Church Construction
Alexei Kumachev
Delovoi Peterburg
July 31,2018

Petersburg city hall [aka the Smolny] has allocated two land plots for church construction in the Primorsky and Petrograd distrists. According to documents published on the Smolny’s website, the land will be provided free of charge. It was reported previously that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had announced plans to build a Sunday school on Heroes Avenue and a church on Konstantinovsky Avenue.

The St. Petersburg Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate will receive a land plot on Krestovsky Island. The total area is 2,000 square meters. A ten-year lease will be signed within a month.

Earlier, it was reported the ROC’s plans for the lot on Konstantinovsky Avenue involved construction of 254 square meter church, a 400 square meter school building, a 32 square meter belfy area, and a 28 square meter baptistery.

The proposal to transfer the land to the ROC was made by Petersburg Deputy Governor Igor Albin at a meeting of the city government.

The estimated cadastral value of the land is ₽15 million. According to Anna Sigalova, deputy director for investments at Colliers International in Petersburg, the plot could be sold for around ₽300 million [approx. €4 million]. The analyst added the price could change if the plot were rezoned for residentialhousing construction.

In addition, the ROC will receive a land plot in the Krasnoye Selo District for free. This is the previously mentioned plot on Heroes Avenue. The total area of the site is 2,200 square meters.

The ROC plans to build a two-storey Orthodox school with its own church on the site. The work will be done by the congregation of the All Saints Church in southwest Petersburg. The term of the free lease is ten years. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the documents ceding the land to the ROC.

On July 18, we reported the Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitrage Court had agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by the city’s Property Relations Committee (KIO) against the congregration of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church (St. Petersburg Diocese, ROC) concerning the ownership rights to the church, which was built on the former grounds of South Primorsky Park, opposite the house at 24 Valor Street.

16 сентябрь 2015 (12)Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church while still under construction in September 2015. Photo courtesy of the church’s website

The 16,600 square meter plot had earlier been rezoned for construction of religious buildings and handed over to the ROC. The church building itself, however, was constructed. without the necessary permits. The first hearing of the lawsuit, which claims the city’s right of ownership to the church in the park, has been scheduled for September.

In July 2017, the Smolny transfered a nearly 5,000 square meter plot of land in the elite [sic] village of Komarovo to the ROC. The media wrote at the time the summer cottage of Varsonofius, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, could be built on the site. At the same time, Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Boris Vishnevsky drew attention to the fact that a nearly half-hectare land plot was transferred to the Petersburg Diocese only due to the house on it.

In 2013, the ROC leased the land until 2062. The plot’s value was estimated at ₽30 million. Later, officials explained why they had decided to transfer it to the ROC.

“The plot contains a piece of real estate, a house whose cadastral number is 78:38:0022359:29, and whose rightful owner is a religious organization [i.e., the ROC],” said Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Mokretsov.

According to Mokretsov, an inspection established the plot was used for religious purposes. The Smolny leased the plot to the St. Petersburg Diocese on July 25, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin, March 25, 2002

shchekochikhinYuri Shchekochikhin (June 9, 1950–July 3, 2003)

Oleg Pshenichny
Facebook
June 19, 2018

A letter from Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin. Thanks to Dmitry Nosachev for the heads-up.

I heard with my own ears how arrogantly young journalists then spoke of him. They claimed he was paranoid. They claimed he was obsessed with the mafia and the KGB’s machinations. They all but called him a clown. I won’t point fingers. There is no need.

_______________________________________________

March 25, 2002

To: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,

I was extremely surprised that, at a time when the whole world has been busy fighting terrorism, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been busy with little old me, thus violating Article [98] of the Russian Federal Constitution, which guarantees the immunity of State Duma members.

You will remember the Three Whales Scandal, I hope. It was a big surprise to me that, after the hearing of the State Duma’s Security Committee and my article in Novaya Gazeta on the subject, Pavel Zaytsev, the special investigator who had been handling this criminal case, was summoned for questioning by the FSB—not to find out the truth about how the mafia was organized, but only because of me, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a member of its Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government.

I would not have attached much importance to the incident were it not for one circumstance.

Several years ago, Vyacheslav Zharko, a junior field agent in the St. Petersburg Tax Police, gave me documents showing that ships were entering the Russian Navy’s bases in Lebyazhy and Lomonosov[] without being inspected by customs and border control.

There were several signatures on the documents authorizing this financial escapade, including that of the then Deputy Prime Minister [Oleg] Soskovets and yours, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

[Mikhail] Katyshev, who at the time was the First Deputy Prosecutor General, gave orders to open a criminal case and set up an operational investigative group in the Prosecutor General’s Office after reading the documents submitted by Zharko.

It was this criminal case that led to the arrest of Dmitry Rozhdestvensky, head of Russian Video. Unfortunately, however, due to political motives, the investigative team, led by [Vladimir] Lyseiko, dealt only with the embezzlement of funds by Media Most, “forgetting” about the evidence relating to Russian Video’s Marine Department.

During the investigation of this criminal case, I had to fly to St. Petersburg on several occasions to arrange for Zharko’s protection and security, since his life was in real danger. [Georgy] Poltavchenko, then head of the St. Petersburg Tax Police, and [Viktor] Cherkesov, then head of the FSB’s Petersburg office, were simply afraid to help the young field agent in investigating the high-profile criminal case. I was quite surprised it was Zharko who was summoned from St. Petersburg to handle the arrest of [Vladimir] Gusinsky.

I don’t want to bother you with the details of the criminal case, although I imagine you are familiar with them. It is a different matter that concerns me. In December 2001, Zharko, who had transferred from the Tax Police to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian Defense Ministry, was detained at Sheremetyevo 1 Airport on trumped-up charges of using a counterfeit passport and illegally crossing the border, put under arrest at the behest of the Deputy Prosecutor General, and remanded in custody to Lefortovo Prison. The arrest, especially an arrest sanctioned by such a top-ranking official, on charges of committing a crime that carries a punishment of up to two years in prison, and the subsequent change in his pretrial status, as ordered by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, would seem incredible were it not for one circumstance. While Zharko was jailed in Lefortovo Remand Prison, FSB field agents tried to “crack” [kololi] him (I use the word “crack” deliberately) while figuring out whether he had in his possession documents bearing your signature and relating to the criminal case. What especially angered me was that the officers attempted to force Zharko to confess that he and I were mixed up with Boris Berezovsky. During their conversations, it was said that I received $50,000 a month from Berezovsky, part of which I gave to Zharko, who in turn gave some to Mikhail Katyshev.

Vladimir Vladimorovich, I have spoken with Berezovsky once and only once in my life. It was in the State Duma building. It just happened.

Most important, however, I don’t like it that I, deputy chair of a State Duma committee, have been targeted by the FSB. I don’t like it that my phones have been bugged and that someone has been trying hard to find means to discredit me.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, I don’t think this letter will end up in your hands. I once sent you a letter about Mr. [Nazir] Khapsirokov, one of the most notorious characters investigated by the Commission on Combating Corruption, during the last sitting of the State Duma. It was when he was appointed deputy head of your administration. In that letter, I wrote to you that you wanted to put together a team while a pack of dogs was circling you. After receiving a reply from a clerk in your administration, I realized the pack had encircled you once and for all, and that it was stronger than the team. Therefore, I am sending a copy this letter to the chair of the State Duma and the head of the Yabloko Party faction in the State Duma, of which I am a member.

Respectfully,

Yuri P. Shchekochikin
Deputy Chair, State Duma Security Committee
Member, State Duma Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government
Member, State Duma (Yabloko Party Faction)

It is widely believed Mr. Shchekochikhin was poisoned to death. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Totally Wired

DSCN5713A view of Kolokolnaya Street, in downtown Petersburg, crisscrossed by telecom cables. Photo by the Russian Reader

Telecom Operators Taking Their Time Clearing Nevsky Prospect of Wires
Zhanna Zhuravlyova
Delovoi Peterburg
May 15, 2018

Clear Sky, a program designed to move underground the thick network of wires stretching over Nevsky Prospect, has been launched. The results so far have not been promising. Only three out of dozen and a half telecom operators have gone underground.

The first three telecom operators have removed their fiber-optic cables from Nevsky Prospect and moved them underground into conduits built as part of the city’s Clear Sky program. These trailblazers were Prometei, Obit, and Centrex Smolny, a wholly owned affiliate of city hall’s IT and Communications Committee (KIS), which acted as the project’s general contractor, according to Centrex Smolny’s director Felix Kasatkin.

According to Kasatkin, another three or four operators are ready to move their overhead lines, currently stretched between poles and buildings, underground in May. There are around a dozen and a half telecom providers whose lines crisscross the space immediately above the Nevsky. According to market insiders, the cost of dismantling the old lines and rerouting them to the access points into the underground conduits could range from ₽100,000 to ₽2 million. The cost depends on how many times the cables cross Nevsky, and how close they are situated to the necessary access points.

It is utterly impossible to force operators to remove the lines. The overhead lines may be ugly, but they are completely legal.

A Multi-Channel Story
The problem of overhead lines on the Nevsky surfaced in 2012, when Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko voiced his outrage over the large number of lines, which disfigured the city’s main thoroughfare, in his opinion. The solution appeared obvious: move all the telecom operators into Rostelecom’s underground conduits. Many of them, however, resented the prospect, complaining about the state telecom operator’s rates, the speed with which it performed work, and its frequent refusals to configure networks.

That was when an alternative and somewhat extravagant solution was advanced: putting the telecom lines in Vodokanal’s water main conduits. A design was drafted, but never implemented.

The final solution seemed simpler. The city would build its own infrastructure within Rostelecom’s conduit, offering to rent the space to telecom operators. The idea was that they would be more open to this proposal than to collaborating with Rostelecom, with whom they were in constant competition.

Built for Free
Ultimately, ten underground conduits were built under the Nevsky, and collective access fiber-optic cables were inserted in them. Ownership of the conduits is currently being transferred to Centrex Smolny, and telecom operators are encouraged to lease the fiber-optic cables.

Kasatkin emphasizes the rates for leasing the cables are as low as possible, since they include only servicing charges. There is no need to recoup the costs of constructing the conduits, since they were built at the city’s expense. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find the relevant government purchase order for performance of this work, nor could Centrex Smolny could not provide us with specific information on on the matter.

According to Rustelecom, around twelve kilometers of conduits were constructed for the Clear Sky project. The cost of laying one kilometer of conduit is around ₽100,000, says Yuri Bryukvin, head of Rustelecom. So, along with the cost of materials and incidental expenses, the total costs could have amounted to ₽1.5 million. KIS chair Denis Chamara reported ₽30 million were spent on the project.

Broken Telephone
Telecom operators who have received Centrex Smolny’s offer say the cost of leasing one kilometer of fiber-optic cable is approximately ₽500 a month. One conduit can contain eight, sixteen or more fiber-optic cables.

All the telecoms who operate in the city centere have fiber-optic cables that cross the Nevsky five or six times, explains Vladislav Romanenko, commercial director of Comlink Telecom. In this case, a telecom would pay up to ₽50,000 a month to lease fiber-optic cables.

Andrei Sukhodolsky, director general of Smart Telecom, whose lines also hang over the Nevsky, says the company has not yet been made an offer by Centrex Smolny.

“I have definitely not received official proposals in writing,” Sukhodolsky claims. “Theoretically, we would agree to move our lines if we could understand the costs.”

“The cost of the lease you quote is quite decent, but we have not received a commercial offer to lease fiber-optic cables,” says Romanenko. “Currently, we are considering laying our own cable in Rostelecom’s conduits.”

ER Telecom told us they were working to move their communications lines, but they did not specify where they were moving them.

The initial list of streets that should have been cleared of unnecessary wires under the Clear Sky project featured a dozen streets, including Bolshaya Morskaya Street, Moskovsky Prospect, and Izmailovsky Project. So far the KIS has no specific plans to go beyond the Nevsky. And, perhaps, the issue will no longer be relevant after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Market insiders point to Moscow as a positive example. The city moved its cables underground with no hitches and in much greater numbers. In Tatarstan, the authorities have obliged building owners to dismantle all structures that have not been vetted by the city on pain of paying a hefty fine.

“So the building owners dismantled the telecom lines on their own,” our source at Comfortel told us.

Our source at the KIS was at pains to emphasize that operators removed the lines “voluntarily and at their own behest.”

*********************

The overhead lines on the Nevsky usually contain eight to sixteen fiber-optic cables, which means the price of leasing a single conduit for moving lines underground could be as much as ₽8,000 a month. Then it would make sense to take advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offer. But of an operator is running a large number of cables, he would find it more profitable to lease a conduit from Rostelecom. We have already moved our cables to Rostelecom’s conduits without waiting for the offer from Centrex Smolny. It’s odd certain operators postponed the move to May, since construction work is not carried out by telecom operators only when the temperature dips below –15°C.
—Dmitry Petrov, director general, Comfortel

We have been preparing for the move for three years or so. In one spot, where our cables cross the Nevsky, we took advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offcer. The terms for leasing the fibers really are good. Centrex Smolny is clearly not making any money on this project, but they are probably not losing any money, either. The important thing about the project is the telecom operators are not commercially entangled with Centrex Smolny, while many telecoms have long, complicated relationships with Rostelecom: for example, when a lot of illegal fiber-optic cables were laid in the conduits, something that is still a matter of controversy.
—Аndrei Guk, director general, Obit

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leave Our Governor Alone!

21766372_129847227759420_9165060690926800004_n
Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko (right) would rather be somewhere else. Photo courtesy of Turku.fi

I gather that Russia’s president for life is dismissing regional governors at a furious pace to shore up his shaky position against the wildly dangerous non-candidate Navalny in the run-up to next March’s self-reappointment to the post of Russia’s president.

I could not care less about all that as long as Putin leaves Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko alone. (Poltavchenko is the vaguely unhappy looking man on the right, in the picture above.)

Sure, Poltavchenko returned to his adopted hometown of Petersburg, after several years of bureaucratic carpetbagging, as an appointed satrap, who later obtained spurious legimitacy by winning a low-turnout, rigged election against a slate of astroturfed opponents. In a fit of uncharacteristic cynicism, Poltavchenko dubbed this farce “Democracy Day,” but we have forgiven him long ago for that outburst—by default, as it were, because 99.999% of us Petersburgers could give a hoot about local politics and have no clue about the Tammany Hall-style thuggery that once again covered the Cradle of Three Revolutions in shame on September 18, 2014. We are more the artsy, creative types here in the ex-capital of All the Russias. We go in for fo bo, hamburgers, craft beer, and conspicuous hipsterism.

In Petersburg, taking politics seriously is not cool.

But all the Sturm und Drang of 2014 matter less than Poltavchenko’s signal virtue, which consists in his striking tendency not to do or say much of anything, at least visibly or publicly. Unlike his colleague Ramzan Kadyrov, headman of the horrifying Chechen Republic, who is constantly running off at the mouth and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, Poltavchenko has gone for whole weeks and months without saying or doing anything significant or noteworthy, much less frightening.

Whatever his other vices as a satrap and “former” KGB officer, it appears he would find it profoundly embarrassing to frighten anyone, especially just to show off, the way Kadyrov does it.

In an authoritarian political system in which making news means feigning to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist fascist Orthodox maniac, tabling Nazi-like law bills in the Duma as fast as they can be typed up and printed out, there is something to be said for a guy who always looks as if he is always bored out of his mind, as if he would rather be home watching TV, fishing in the lake next to his dacha or tinkering with his car.

Which, of course, is an old Lada, not a Land Rover.

Or so I’d like to imagine. TRR

 

Makarov: Russia Is God’s Last Hope on Earth

6fbb0ff7-d5dd-4ac5-b7d1-568717fb0d7e
Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

Legislative Assembly Speaker Vyacheslav Makarov Calls Russia God’s Last Hope on Earth 
Delovoi Peterburg
September 12, 2017

As reported on Fontanka.ru on Tuesday, September 12, Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, called Russia God’s last hope while addressing participants of a religious procession that had marched down Nevsky Prospect.

“Russia has its own special mission in the world. The meaning of Russia’s existence is to solve problems that no other country can solve. Russia is a world power, God’s last hope on earth! That is why the Lord invisibly protects Russia from enemies and safeguards its little world for a salvational outcome in order to protect our country in its heavenly and earthly dimensions,” Vyacheslav Makarov said.

banners
Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

He noted the adversities that have ravaged Russia are bound up, among other things, with the murder of the tsar and his family.

“Exactly one hundred years separate us from events that radically changed our Fatherland, a great, multi-ethnic country, events that plunged it into the madness of civil war, in which children rebelled against their parents, and brother fought against brother. And the subsequent losses and sorrows, trials and tragedies through which the people passed were predestined by the destruction of the state, the murder of the tsar and his children, and militant atheism,” said Makarov.

cossacks
Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

In turn, Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko noted that Alexander Nevsky had chosen the right way for building the state, had repelled outside aggressors, and had helped the Russian people maintain its identity through Orthodoxy.

Today, Petersburg held a citywide religious procession in honor of the Day of the Translation of the Relics of Alexander Nevsky. The sacred procession went down Nevsky Prospect from Kazan Cathedral to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. According to the regional directorate of the Interior Minister, over 100,000 people took part in the event.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg’s Largest Communal Apartment

28

Life in One of Russia’s Largest Communal Apartments
Yulia Paskevich
Gorod 812
March 23, 2017

Apartment No. 2 at Detskaya Street, 2, on Vasilyevsky Island, is Petersburg’s largest communal apartment. At any rate, its tenants think so. City officials cannot say for sure how large the apartment is. According to certain documents, its total area is 1,010.7 square meters; according to other documents, the figure is 1,247.7 square meters. All we know for certain is that is contains 34 rooms and 40 common areas. Gorod 812 visited the apartment, concluding it was not the sort of communal apartment where one would want to live.

Art Around the Corner
During my first visit to the apartment, I was horrified. The odors gave me a headache, and I could not understand how people could live in such conditions. I then made a repeat visit, and I discovered the apartment had another, civil half. It left me with a murky impression. The apartment dwellers would tell me things were good, but they would not open their doors, although most of the people I encountered were decent and pleasant.

The apartment probably holds the record not only for sheer size but also for utter neglect. Visitors are usually shown the floor, which is caving in, the rotten wiring hanging overhead, and the crumbling walls. They are usually asked not to take off their coats and shoes at the entrance, as is the custom in most Russian homes, because the stroll down the hundred-meter-long hallway is cold and dirty. Some residents agree to speak with reporters only off the record. They do not want workmates to find out where they live.

The building the apartment occupies was erected in 1958, and is now surrounded by so-called elite residential estates. The Erarta Contemporary Art Museum is nearby. It is not a big hit among the residents.

The building’s first story was originally an outpatient medical clinic. In 1983, the clinic acquired a new building, and its old digs were remodeled as a dormitory for medical staff from the nearby Pokrovskaya Hospital and Children’s Infectious Disease Hospital No. 3. The numbers of doctors’ surgeries are still attached to the doors of some of the rooms in the apartment. There is not a single, thick load-bearing wall inside the apartment. The entire space has been divided by partitions, so voices and noises carry.

“When a neighbor in the next room sneezes, you say ‘Gesundheit’ aloud,” remarks Elena Pogor. “He thanks you.”

Nadezhda Khondakova, an employee at a medical center, took up residence on Detskaya Street in 1989, when three to four people lived to a room.

“I was born and raised in Karelia,” she says. “After graduating from medical college, I was assigned to the children’s hospital and got a place in the dormitory. The room had always been neglected. It was temporary housing, so no one paid much attention to maintenance. Besides, renovations were not carried out there right away.”

Outwardly, the apartment has seemingly been divided in two. The right half is cleaner and brighter, while the floor is sinking in the left half.

“As a technician said, the heating main runs under this half of the apartment,” Khondakova explains. “Every three years, we install a new floor, but they all rot.”

Communal Legends
On March 1, 2005, the dormitory was officially designated an apartment, giving residents the right to privatize their rooms. But little has changed. The entry doors are still unlocked, so anyone can get into the apartment. Previously, homeless people would venture into the apartment to warm up or wash up, sleeping right in the kitchen. Residents try and avoid letting not only children into the hallway but cats as well. Who knows what might happen to them.

In 2011, the apartment was declared unfit for habitation. Two years later, Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed an eviction and resettlement notice. At the time of the signing, 27 families (62 people) officially resided in the apartment.

Old-timers recall the queues for the showers and toilets. There were two of each, and people started queuing for them at five in the morning. They also remember showdowns in the kitchen and rats. They lived modestly. If you ran out of something, you could borrow it from a neighbor without asking.

“You would leave detergent in the kitchen and someone would use half the bottle,” recalls Tatyana Pogor. “Spoons were stolen, people had their trousers swiped from the clotheslines. Half a chicken once vanished from the oven. That was unpleasant, but they left a note saying whether they found it tasty or not. Once, there was a knock-down-drag-out fight over the shower.”

When ten families had received authorizations for new apartments, the housing authority ceased issuing the authorizations.

“The apartments were issued chaotically,” says Khondakova. “It was not only people whose housing was subsidized who were affected. My neighbor Tatyana privatized her room and was resettled in a one-room apartment. I’ve been in the queue for separate apartment for twenty years, and I’ve never been offered anything.”

The residents tell me about about a drunken neighbor lady who was moved into a one-room apartment in the Moscow District, about a women who did not want to move out, and a family who happily took up a new life in the Petersburg suburb of Pushkin.

The activists argue the apartment should be resettled completely and everyone should be moved into separate accommodations.

“It’s not the district that issues us apartments. The city has been handling the resettlement,” Khondakova underscores. “We know where residential buildings are being built: Parnas, Veterans Avenue, and Shushary [in the far north and far south of the city, respectively.] But we have not said we want to live only on Vasilyevsky Island.”

After the ten families departed, the residents who were left behind divvied up the remaining space among themselves, including around 40 common spaces, such as washrooms, hallways, and the laundry room. Tatyana Lobunova’s 24-square-meter room includes 40 square meters of hallway and kitchen space, for which she pays the city’s housing authority 4,000 rubles a month [approx. 63 euros]. Khondakova pays rates between 7,000 and 8,000 rubles a month. However, a table in the apartment’s kitchen is littered with bills left unpaid by debtors. Some residents demonstratively refuse to pay the maintenance and cleaning fees for their rooms.

The Residents
Residents are reluctant to let visitors into their rooms. As you gaze at the dilapidated kitchen and toilets, you imagine this shambles reigns throughout the apartment. But you would be wrong. The residents’ own rooms are clean and tidy. Many of them have equipped their rooms with small kitchens and cook food there. The doors to the different rooms vary as well. Residents sequestered behind more expensive doors do not want to chat with reporters, while the activists who demand total eviction and resettlement live in the part of the apartment where the floor caves in.

The author of a petition on Change.Org to resettle the apartment, a petition that has gathered nearly 18,000 signatures, has lived in the apartment six years. An actress at the Ne-Kabuki Theater, Tatyana Lobunova bought her room from builders. They had purchased the room for a song, plastered the walls, and resold it. Lobunova had lived in a communal apartment before. She grew up in a nine-family apartment on Konnogvardeiskaya Boulevard, in the city’s downtown. So the idea of living in a communal apartment did not intimidate her.

The cosmetic repairs in her room quickly crumbled. The new wooden window turned black and rotted, a crevice emerged under the wet wallpaper on the outside wall, and the room smelled moldy. A sofa was tossed out by way of combating cockroaches. Now the room is chockablock with cockroach traps. When I asked her whether she was really unaware of the investment she was making, she shrugs.

“I had to live on Vasilyevsky Island,” she explains. “A family theater means working nonstop. I get four hours of sleep a day. If I lived a ways from the theater, I would probably get no more than two hours of sleep a day.”

Lobunova stores letters from various officials in a folder. She produces one from the presidential administration, who advised tenants to exercise their right to turn to the local authorities to redress their grievances.

Currently, the number of proprietors who actually live in the apartment is not so great. People prefer to let their rooms for eight to twelve thousand rubles a month. It is hard to tell one renter from the next. There are people knocking about, and the heck with it.

A native of Pskov Region, Elena Pogor has lived in Petersburg around six years. Initially, she and her husband rented a room, but then friends suggested they live in the apartment at Detskaya, 2, up money to buy her own apartment or room.

“In Dedovichi, where I grew up, there are no jobs at all,” she explains. “The wages there run from seven to ten thousand rubles a month. You can earn twelve to fifteen thousand rubles a month at the regional power plant. We consider the people who work there wealthy.”

The room where she and her husband live is in the better-maintained part of the apartment.

“It all depends on people and upbringing,” argues Pogor. “We have made friends with the neighbor lady Roza and her daughter. They’re good, tidy people. It’s a shame the repairs were started and not finished. On the one hand, I could not care less. I’m not planning to stay here long in any case, but I want to live decently.”

A Potential Squat 
The Vasilyevsky Island District Administration has its own plans for the apartment. In 2015–2016, an overhaul of the common property was undertaken. Workers showed up, removed the toilets, stripped off the tiles, poured cement floors in the bathrooms, and left. Tenants had to parquet the floor in the hallway themselves. The district administration has dubbed this exercise “works toward eliminating the apartment’s hazardous condition.”

The district administration told us that the “paperwork affirming the elimination of the hazardous conditions [was] currently being vetted.”

Eliminating the apartment’s hazardous status would facilitate its being sold as real estate. The question is, who would buy it and for how much. There is little hope the city’s communal apartment resettlement program would come to the rescue. It has being going sluggishly in the district: in 2016, it resettled a mere forty apartments there. So there is virtually no chance a huge communal apartment will up and vanish by itself. For the time being, the only prospect is that, as conditions worsen, the rent will grow cheaper.

Then the apartment will undergo its latest metamorphosis and turn into a squat.

For Your Information
Communal apartments will celebrate their one hundredth anniversary in the summer of 2018. There are 78,534 communal apartments in Petersburg, housing 250,027 families. 4,816 such apartments were resettled in the city during 2016.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Yulia Pashkevich and Gorod 812