Коммуналка – a Russian way of living

11 August 2014

“Living here is temporary, but in Russia nothing is as permanent as temporary”, one resident of a communal apartment said about his living conditions. With this statement he said the truth. After Russian revolution, the Bolsheviks expropriated apartments of upper classes and filled them with families just to overcome the housing crisis in urban areas. Since then the kommunalkas still exist.

A kommunalka is a big flat which is typically shared between two to seven families. Each family has its own room, which serves at the same time as living room, dining room and bedroom. They share a long and dark corridor, a kitchen, a bathroom and one telephone. It was the predominant form of housing in the USSR for generations.

Depending on your roommates living in the kommunalka, such an accommodation could be interesting or horrible at the same time. All neighbors are forced to interact with each other and follow an elaborate system of rules. One the one hand, they are like a big family but on the other hand they are like strangers, too. The residents knew nearly everything of each other, so there wasn’t any sense of privacy. Spying was also prevalent because everyone lived in extremely closed quarters.

Former residents say it was a comfortable way of living. They lived and enjoyed it and look back fondly on the sense of family they found in kommunalkas. People who moved into a separate flat often felt isolated and alone. Living in a kommunalka was all about self-control and learning to take responsibility for the actions from a very young age, because there were so many residents. The only problem they had was with the telephone. There was only one line for about five or six families.

Nowadays it becomes more and more popular. People choose to live in a kommunalka because of the excellent location of the housing. In Saint Petersburg, for example, kommunalkas are often located in the historical city center. But the main reason is still the price affordability! A room in a kommunalka costs three times less than a small separate flat. Especially foreign students choose this way of living because of the opportunity to communicate daily with their native neighbors.

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