April 01, 1999

Close Quarters: The Rise & Fall of the Kommunalka

Navigating Irida Antonova’s apartment is more than just a visit, it’s an adventure. The long, dilapidated, poorly-lit corridors bend and turn, always revealing ever more rooms and ever more inhabitants. None of them are her relatives, however, and most have little to say to each other, only rushing by to see to their own affairs.

Seven families, totaling 20 people, live with Irida in a kommunalka — or communal apartment, a Soviet-era phenomenon where from two to 10 families have their own room and share a single bathroom and kitchen. The ornate fireplace, awkwardly cramped in the hallway and covered with various household junk, belies the brilliance of the tsarist-era, when the apartment had a radically different interior design and belonged to just one family.

Irida’s apartment, which dates from the turn of the century, has a total of 365 square meters of space, with 176 square meters as living space. That breaks down to nine square meters per person, or three times less than the European average.

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