The 1970s in the Soviet Union are often known as the time of stagnation. The economy was doing rather poorly, and the new leader, Leonid Brezhnev, backpedaled many of the reforms that had been made under Khrushchev. However, one positive that many Soviet people found was life in communal apartments. While there were definitely some issues to communal living, for the most part it seems that most people who lived in large communal apartments (kommunalka) enjoyed it.
This 2013 video gives a tour of a kommunalka similar to one that Soviet citizens would have lived in during the Brezhnev era.
Ekaterina Sergeevna was a newly divorced mother of two when she did a room exchange in 1972 in order to gain a new living space for her tiny family. She raised her boys in a large apartment where anywhere from about thirty to fifty others lived, depending on the time. Ekaterina said that life in the kommunalka was a mostly positive experience. The tenants were like one big family, sharing nearly everything with each other, be it good or bad. The tenants always knew that they could turn to one another.
However, there were challenges unique to life in the kommunalka as well. In 1972, a legal question was answered in the “Current Digest of the Russian Press”. The tenants of many communal apartments were unsure how to divide utilities and electric bills, leading to arguments amongst each other. According to the Current Digest, it was up to the tenants to calculate exactly who owed what. Another issue that arose for those who lived in the kommunalka were people who lied about how many family members lived with them, in order to gain more living space, as detailed in a follow-up letter in another issue of “Current Digest”.
While life in a kommunalka was not always carefree and pleasant, for the most part it seems that the people who lived in communal apartments enjoyed their lifestyle. As Ekaterina summed it up, “Of course, you own apartment is a good thing, but if I had to choose the lesser of two evils, [the kommunalka] is better”.
Utekhin, Ilya, Alice Nakhimovksy, Slava Paperno, and Nancy Ries. “Communal Living in Russia: Stories and Thoughts.” The Russia Reader: History, Culture, Politics. By Adele Marie Barker and Bruce Grant. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 616-18. Print.
Utkin, N. “Follow-up on a Letter: How Apartments Were Allocated.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 24.10 (1972): 22. East View. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13645513>.
“Essay Viewer for Communal Living in Russia.” Essay Viewer for Communal Living in Russia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/cfm/view_text.cfm?ClipID=376&Field=NarrationTranscript&Language=English&CustomTourID=0&SearchTargetList=>.
“Legal Service: WHEN THE APARTMENT IS SHARED.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 24.7 (1972): 21. East View. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13645741>.