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Author Topic: Living in Soviet housing projects - Good or Bad?  (Read 4991 times) Average Rating: 0
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88Devin12
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« on: April 23, 2009, 07:12:45 PM »

This was started in another thread and I felt it needed it's own thread.

For those who have lived in them and experienced them. What are your opinions of Soviet built housing like the following:


How do you think they compare to Le Corbusier style developments and the housing projects of America?
What is the difference?

Why is it that housing projects in America seem to attract poverty, violence, segregation, isolation etc... Did the Soviet style projects do the same?

Housing projects in America (now demolished mostly, because of crime, etc...)


Le Corbusier style developments found in Europe, also being demolished.


What is your experience of the Soviet style housing? Is there a good sense of community? What is it about it that you remember most? Good and Bad?
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2009, 02:40:38 PM »

Some Stalinist architecture looks quite impressive in person:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalinist_architecture

If you're into this sort of thing, you could spend an entire day on the Moscow Metro looking at some of the cooler stations.  That being said, the stuff that isn't first tier (think long rows of identical flats lining suburbs) aren't all that pleasant visually. 

When I spoke of good memories from Soviet housing, it was more to do with the people I remember.  But every block of flats has a courtyard type thing (called a двор in Russian) where children often play, people socialise, drink too much vodka etc.  When I lived in a сталинковка (building built when Stalin was in power), I knew most of my neighbours, was often invited over to their flats etc.  On the other hand, my parents live in the American suburbia which you despise so much and I had the same experience growing up - knew ever single family that lived on the street, socialised with them all quite a bit. 
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« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2009, 10:27:08 AM »

I spent all of my childhood and young adulthood in Soviet urban dwellings, which were, indeed, huge apartment complexes, with courtyards like those Nektarios described.

It was actually quite good. The only down side was that if the central heating was broken in winter, it took a whole day to persuade the servicemen to come and fix it. (That could be improved if you allude to rewarding them with vodka.Smiley. The apartments were small, but well-designed; rooms were well-isolated from each other; the kitchen was always a separate little room with doors and a small corridor separating it from other rooms; and there always was a little lobby, so that the front door would never open directly into the living room.

The best thing about these apartments was that we never heard noises from neighbors. Because of that, I was totally shocked and devastated when I rented my first American one-bedroom apartment in Alhambra, CA in 1990 and found out that the walls of this apartment were, essentially, cardboard, and there was always noise from neighbors. One of my neighbors was a prostitute who had her clients all night long...
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« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2009, 12:32:04 PM »

The best thing about these apartments was that we never heard noises from neighbors. 

Easily the most surprising thing in your post.  Any idea as to why they would put the effort into doing this?  Was it an additional benefit to the weather-insulation?  Or was it purposeful?

Because of that, I was totally shocked and devastated when I rented my first American one-bedroom apartment in Alhambra, CA in 1990 and found out that the walls of this apartment were, essentially, cardboard, and there was always noise from neighbors. One of my neighbors was a prostitute who had her clients all night long... 

Yikes.  I'm glad you survived with your wits about you! (... or did you? Grin )
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« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2009, 05:21:20 PM »

The best thing about these apartments was that we never heard noises from neighbors. 

Easily the most surprising thing in your post.  Any idea as to why they would put the effort into doing this?  Was it an additional benefit to the weather-insulation?  Or was it purposeful?

Never once did I hear my neighbours when living in Soviet built housing.  On the other hand, I hear WAY TOO MUCH of my neighbours now that I'm back in the US, so I've resorted to constantly having music playing.  I have no idea why Soviet housing flats were so well constructed.   

The other drawback to centralised heating is that the hot water for an entire section of the city has to be turned off for about a month every summer.  And for some reason Russians are terrified of cold showers (but not of running around naked and jumping into a river after the banya...), so when you are packed into the Moscow Metro and stop at a station that doesn't have hot water the stench is overwhelming.  I don't think this is much a problem in Moscow and Kyiv, but in the poorer areas of the former USSR the government doesn't really have enough money to run the central heating.  Last year we had snow on the ground before the heating started.  There are also frequent outages of water and electricity. 

It is also true that there is a lot less space.  But, you learn how to maximise space in such an environment and realise that American housing wastes a ton of space. 
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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2009, 05:54:29 PM »

Ah, yes, those dreadful summers without hot water...it was a trial for me, that is for sure. I had to do quite a lot of entertaining and always had literally stacks of dishes to wash every day. Not very much fun when you have to heat up so much hot water all the time. We would fill our bathtubs and insert a heating device in order to get enough hot water with which to wash dishes, have baths, etc.

But I did hear my neighbours through the walls at times. Fortunately, I lived in a five story apartment designated for war veterns. But sometimes my neighbour to the left would have loud, shriekingly wild nights and I would hear it all...and my neighbour to the right- a dear elderly gentleman who was hard of hearing, would turn his telly up so high that it was impossible to fall asleep. Feeling simply awful about confronting him, nevertheless, I did so one day. The next day (incidentally , 8th of March!) he knocked on my door with a flurry of apologies and a beautiful box of chocolates!! He was truly a beautiful person.

One time a couple drunks stole all my dresses off the clothesline. This was a near disaster for me, due to my religious circumstances at the time...However, the "mayoress" of the building, a fiery "red-head" in her 60's employed all her cronies and eventually-triumphantly!-a week later, she showed up at my door with a whole bundle of my dresses in her hands!!  Wow-that was such an impressive feat in my eyes!

Oh, those were the "good old days"!! Such colourful adventures seldom befall me here-life is somehow too predictable, too grey, for the most part...
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« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2009, 06:05:37 PM »

The best thing about these apartments was that we never heard noises from neighbors. 

Easily the most surprising thing in your post.  Any idea as to why they would put the effort into doing this?  Was it an additional benefit to the weather-insulation?  Or was it purposeful?

I am not sure. The construction was never a private venture in the USSR, it was completely state-supported, and slow. Buildings were made with solid, thick walls. Maybe it has to do with the climate: I just can't imagine California-style stucco buildings with thin walls survive the winter in Russia or even Ukraine. Hardly possible to heat.

Because of that, I was totally shocked and devastated when I rented my first American one-bedroom apartment in Alhambra, CA in 1990 and found out that the walls of this apartment were, essentially, cardboard, and there was always noise from neighbors. One of my neighbors was a prostitute who had her clients all night long... 

Yikes.  I'm glad you survived with your wits about you! (... or did you? Grin )

No.  Shocked
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« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2009, 06:06:30 PM »

a fiery "red-head" in her 60's

I laughed so hard at reading that.  I don't think anyone who hasn't been to the former USSR can truly understand the obsession that babushki have with unnatural hair colours.  Nor is it possible to explain that if a Babushka is determined to accomplish something, then, by God, it will be accomplished.  
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« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2009, 06:26:38 PM »

How large were the apartments would you say?
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« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2009, 06:27:32 PM »

a fiery "red-head" in her 60's

I laughed so hard at reading that.  I don't think anyone who hasn't been to the former USSR can truly understand the obsession that babushki have with unnatural hair colours.  Nor is it possible to explain that if a Babushka is determined to accomplish something, then, by God, it will be accomplished.  


My maternal grandmother dyed her hair with "khna" (not orange-red, but REAL red, the color of the Soviet flag!) Also, even though she did not drink on a daily basis, when she was invited to dinner at someone's apartment and they tried to pour her some wine, she would always say, "no, vodka for me, please." Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2009, 06:33:46 PM »

How large were the apartments would you say?

It depends... My parents' apartment where I spent my childhood (building number 1 on Mechnikova St., Rosehip probably knows, it's minutes walk from Besarabka) was rather small; it had two rooms, one something like 5x4 meters (~15x12 feet), and the other something like 7x5 meters (21x15 ft), with just a tiny lobby and almost no space between the two rooms. However, it had a separate kitchen that was about the size of the smaller room, and a very nice balcony. My grandparents' apartment (18 October Revolution Street, now renamed back to its historical name Instytuts'ka St.) was a tad bigger, but the same plan: two rooms, a tiny hallway between them, a kitchen, a balcony. My maternal grandmother lived in a "communal" apertment on Saksagans'kogo St., meaning that she lived in one room and there were several other tenants (singles or couples), each in their own room, and they all shared a kitchen and a bathroom.
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« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2009, 06:55:00 PM »

My apartment on Metrologicheska was the very same-one bedroom flat-quite small, a corridor, a (too tiny,in my opinion-as someone who was used to bigger kitchens and had to do ALOT of cooking) kitchen and a bathroom (actually two rooms-one for the sink and tub and the other one for the toilet), but I was on first floor, so no balcony. Steel grids on all windows for safety purposes. Many feared living on the first floor, but I actually loved being able to keep tabs on the courtyard life etc. Nothing bad ever happened to me. Neighbours were very good and kind and had respect for me. I still miss my neighbours and wonder how they are doing these days...
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« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2009, 08:15:20 PM »

My apartment on Metrologicheska was the very same-one bedroom flat-quite small, a corridor, a (too tiny,in my opinion-as someone who was used to bigger kitchens and had to do ALOT of cooking) kitchen and a bathroom (actually two rooms-one for the sink and tub and the other one for the toilet), but I was on first floor, so no balcony. Steel grids on all windows for safety purposes. Many feared living on the first floor, but I actually loved being able to keep tabs on the courtyard life etc. Nothing bad ever happened to me. Neighbours were very good and kind and had respect for me. I still miss my neighbours and wonder how they are doing these days...

My parents' apartment was on the second floor, with both rooms facing the courtyard, and it was very quiet. My paternal grandparents' apartment was on the fourth floor, one room facing the side of a neighboring building, and the other room (with the balcony) facing the courtyard; also very quiet. However, my maternal grandmother's room in her "communal apartment" (fifth floor) faced a very busy street with streetcar tracks. My grandma used to say that sometimes she has dreams at night where this streetcar just enters her room... 
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« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2009, 08:26:31 PM »

This is so Funny to read , i like it..HaHaHa
God Bless The Russian And Ukrainian people....
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« Reply #14 on: April 30, 2009, 09:03:47 PM »

Yes, Stashko, one could really write a book about everything.

I lived on the fifth floor of the same building for a couple years, before moving down to the coveted first floor flat. I remember feeling very anxious way up there, all alone, particularly at nights. A horrible fear would come over me. I had some lovely neighbours, a really nice older couple in their seventies, whose bedroom was right beside mine, on the other side of the wall, of course. One night I had a horrible nightmare, that I was in a cage and desperately trying to break loose by physically throwing my body against the sides of the "cage". Suddenly I woke up, with a terrible pain in my foot...I discovered I had been actually running around ON TOP of my bed and throwing myself against the walls, screaming the whole time at the top of my lungs-trying to "escape". Whew. It was awful and I was pretty shaken by this experience. In the morning, there was a knock on my door and the dear old dedushka next door was standing there. "Never", he said sternly, "NEVER let unknown men into your apartment at night!!! Do you realize how dangerous it is??? Why, my wife and I were at a complete loss-completely terrified and not knowing if we should call the police to help you...". with a red face I tried to explain about my dream, the nightmare. He didn't look terribly convinced.

They were a very nice couple. But very timourous and neurotic...His wife suffered terrible anxiety about the cockroaches and had an actual travel route laid out which these pests would use to cross from one apartment to the next...She would invite herself in several times to point out to me this "route"...
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« Reply #15 on: April 30, 2009, 09:17:50 PM »

Yes, Stashko, one could really write a book about everything.

I lived on the fifth floor of the same building for a couple years, before moving down to the coveted first floor flat. I remember feeling very anxious way up there, all alone, particularly at nights. A horrible fear would come over me. I had some lovely neighbours, a really nice older couple in their seventies, whose bedroom was right beside mine, on the other side of the wall, of course. One night I had a horrible nightmare, that I was in a cage and desperately trying to break loose by physically throwing my body against the sides of the "cage". Suddenly I woke up, with a terrible pain in my foot...I discovered I had been actually running around ON TOP of my bed and throwing myself against the walls, screaming the whole time at the top of my lungs-trying to "escape". Whew. It was awful and I was pretty shaken by this experience. In the morning, there was a knock on my door and the dear old dedushka next door was standing there. "Never", he said sternly, "NEVER let unknown men into your apartment at night!!! Do you realize how dangerous it is??? Why, my wife and I were at a complete loss-completely terrified and not knowing if we should call the police to help you...". with a red face I tried to explain about my dream, the nightmare. He didn't look terribly convinced.

They were a very nice couple. But very timourous and neurotic...His wife suffered terrible anxiety about the cockroaches and had an actual travel route laid out which these pests would use to cross from one apartment to the next...She would invite herself in several times to point out to me this "route"...

These project buildings,, do they have any greenery in front to beautify the places ,,When i think projects ,what comes to mind are the bleak and depressing ones here in Chicago, no greenery or plants or if the do plant  there destroyed or trampled...
Are the ones there, maintained not covered in graffiti other than the roach infestation ..curious
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« Reply #16 on: April 30, 2009, 09:32:45 PM »


These project buildings,, did they have any greenery in front to beautify the places ,,When i think projects ,what comes to mind are the bleak and depressing ones here in Chicago, no greenery or plants or if the do plant  there destroyed or trampled...
Are the ones there, maintained not covered in graffiti other than the roach infestation ..curious


Yes, they actually always had some trees and bushes planted in front of them (on the street's sidewalk) and especially in the courtyard. That was, BTW, my another great disappointment when I came to the USA in 1990 (Los Angeles area) - that in urban neighborhoods, there are no trees or bushes or flowers. Later, I understood that there are a lot of private lawns and gardens in the suburbs; but in the ex-Soviet streets, there were always greens growing "in the public domain."

As for roaches - the first time my family and I really encountered them was, again, in that cardboard Alhambra, CA building. It was the cheepest apartment we could afford (under $600, wow), and because of that, the filthiest. The roaches were enormous, they walked all around us. They ate all our flowers and cacti and even the little palm I bought in the nearest supermarket to "beautify" our cardboard-made "apartment" some. Lesya sobbed and cried and convulsed all the time because of those roaches, saying, "why, why, why did you drag me to this Hamerica, God, I hate it so, I hate it so..."

And we went to work every day in a bus (in Los Angeles area!!!), the only fellow travelers being Mexican season workers in sweaty T-shirts (we called them "majki," with armpits wide open), or the people who were too insane to get a drivers' license. And we were two Ph.D. and M.D., each with a salary of $17,000 a year and with a huge debt from the moment we came (for the tickets, and for the first several days of our stay that our supervisor gave us a "loan" to pay back later...)
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« Reply #17 on: April 30, 2009, 09:33:41 PM »

Wonderful greenery. We had little flower beds in front of each podyezd' (?) and everyone took great pride in planting beautiful flowers in these flower beds. We also had all manner of wonderful trees all around us-kalina, lipa,birch,chestnuts-it was very beautiful all year round. Not too much graffiti either, actually. Of course, the grass was a bit wild, not well-trimmed with mowers like over here, because no one seemed to be elected to mow grass. I saw worse apartment complexes than mine. Mine was unique and special, probably because it was inhabited mostly by pensioners/war veterns, as I mentioned before. So the babushki liked to spend their time with the plants, out in their gardens, feeding the stray neighbourhood cats and dogs (btw, those stray dogs at certain times could be terribly noisy at night!) I remember a Kyiv Post article complaining bitterly about them, so it wasn't just me. But it is true, many of the buildings were very dingy. But I just got used to them somehow, and loved them anyhow.
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« Reply #18 on: April 30, 2009, 09:47:21 PM »

Another thing that I loved about Kyiv were the beautiful Botanical Gardens. My mind wanders over there right now, as it was approximately this time of year when we made our annual pilgrimage there, to breathe in the tantalizing beauty and aroma of the myriads of lilacs. Hundreds, if not thousands of Kyivans would converge on the gardens at this time. There it was I became familiar with the wonderful Ionsky (?) Monastery. A very beautiful, cozy little monastery right on the grounds of the botanical gardens. At the bottom of the gardens were more churches (Vidubitsky-sp?), but my favourite was always Ioansky Monastery...
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« Reply #19 on: April 30, 2009, 10:00:31 PM »


These project buildings,, did they have any greenery in front to beautify the places ,,When i think projects ,what comes to mind are the bleak and depressing ones here in Chicago, no greenery or plants or if the do plant  there destroyed or trampled...
Are the ones there, maintained not covered in graffiti other than the roach infestation ..curious


Yes, they actually always had some trees and bushes planted in front of them (on the street's sidewalk) and especially in the courtyard. That was, BTW, my another great disappointment when I came to the USA in 1990 (Los Angeles area) - that in urban neighborhoods, there are no trees or bushes or flowers. Later, I understood that there are a lot of private lawns and gardens in the suburbs; but in the ex-Soviet streets, there were always greens growing "in the public domain."

As for roaches - the first time my family and I really encountered them was, again, in that cardboard Alhambra, CA building. It was the cheepest apartment we could afford (under $600, wow), and because of that, the filthiest. The roaches were enormous, they walked all around us. They ate all our flowers and cacti and even the little palm I bought in the nearest supermarket to "beautify" our cardboard-made "apartment" some. Lesya sobbed and cried and convulsed all the time because of those roaches, saying, "why, why, why did you drag me to this Hamerica, God, I hate it so, I hate it so..."

And we went to work every day in a bus (in Los Angeles area!!!), the only fellow travelers being Mexican season workers in sweaty T-shirts (we called them "majki," with armpits wide open), or the people who were too insane to get a drivers' license. And we were two Ph.D. and M.D., each with a salary of $17,000 a year and with a huge debt from the moment we came (for the tickets, and for the first several days of our stay that our supervisor gave us a "loan" to pay back later...)



Then theres no comparing usa projects to the ones there ,,seems to me people take care of there places there,which is great to hear ,,people here say it isn't my job,be it to pick up trash, saying im not getting payed for it,,so trash and destruction keeps piling up sad not counting the drugs and gangs...thank you Brate..
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« Reply #20 on: April 30, 2009, 10:14:40 PM »

Wonderful greenery. We had little flower beds in front of each podyezd' (?) and everyone took great pride in planting beautiful flowers in these flower beds. We also had all manner of wonderful trees all around us-kalina, lipa,birch,chestnuts-it was very beautiful all year round. Not too much graffiti either, actually. Of course, the grass was a bit wild, not well-trimmed with mowers like over here, because no one seemed to be elected to mow grass. I saw worse apartment complexes than mine. Mine was unique and special, probably because it was inhabited mostly by pensioners/war veterns, as I mentioned before. So the babushki liked to spend their time with the plants, out in their gardens, feeding the stray neighbourhood cats and dogs (btw, those stray dogs at certain times could be terribly noisy at night!) I remember a Kyiv Post article complaining bitterly about them, so it wasn't just me. But it is true, many of the buildings were very dingy. But I just got used to them somehow, and loved them anyhow.


Still what you write seem like its 100% better than the mega projects in the usa ...thank you ,,,stanislav/stashko
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« Reply #21 on: May 03, 2009, 11:52:27 PM »

I good book to read about the differences between the Soviet and American Housing Projects is Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkatesh

I take it the people who lived in the Soviet projects were not as stigmatized as most of the people who live in the US Housing Projects are?

Stashko, how much do you really know of the US Housing Projects--the American ghetto? According to this book I am reading, part of the reason there is so much violence and gangs in the US HPs is because our Government has basically left the people that live in these filthy places to rot. There is rampant drug trafficking because an impoverished family can make far more money selling drugs than they can flipping burgers. With money comes prestige, power, and wealth--things that people in this world respect. In order to keep that, there is gang violence--the principle that the top dog stays at the top by showing his fangs and ripping out a few throats. It's not because the people in the American ghettos are lazy bad people---they're worn out and disillusioned from trying to be included in the larger, white society and from trying to survive. Please show a little compassion and understanding. Smiley

Is there a desperation in the Soviet HPs as there is here in American?
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« Reply #22 on: May 03, 2009, 11:55:48 PM »

I take it the people who lived in the Soviet projects were not as stigmatized as most of the people who live in the US Housing Projects are?

In this thread, project simply means construction project i.e a row of flats built during the time of the Soviet Union and has no connection to the American meaning of housing project. 
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« Reply #23 on: May 04, 2009, 08:46:50 AM »

I was intending "project" to mean US housing projects or Soviet apartment block projects (I assumed both were built by the countries gov'ts)
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« Reply #24 on: May 04, 2009, 09:27:31 AM »

I good book to read about the differences between the Soviet and American Housing Projects is Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkatesh

I take it the people who lived in the Soviet projects were not as stigmatized as most of the people who live in the US Housing Projects are?

Stashko, how much do you really know of the US Housing Projects--the American ghetto? According to this book I am reading, part of the reason there is so much violence and gangs in the US HPs is because our Government has basically left the people that live in these filthy places to rot. There is rampant drug trafficking because an impoverished family can make far more money selling drugs than they can flipping burgers. With money comes prestige, power, and wealth--things that people in this world respect. In order to keep that, there is gang violence--the principle that the top dog stays at the top by showing his fangs and ripping out a few throats. It's not because the people in the American ghettos are lazy bad people---they're worn out and disillusioned from trying to be included in the larger, white society and from trying to survive. Please show a little compassion and understanding. Smiley

Is there a desperation in the Soviet HPs as there is here in American?

Myrrh, there was no particular stigma about living in "a" project in Soviet times, because essentially everyone lived in some kind of project. The Soviet government controlled all urban construction, so basically every single apartment building was a "project."

However, there has been always a difference: some apartment buildings were, like pretty much everything in the former USSR, "more equal than others." For example, in my home city, Kyiv, there was a very large block of apartment buildings in the Pechers'k neighborhood, unoficially called "Tsars'ke Selo" (The Royal Village). Those buildings were of a very special quality, with large, spacious 3 to 6-room apartments, and they were built exclusively for top rank employees of the government and of the Communist Party "apparatchiks." On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were many projects, especially on the far west end of the city (Borshchahivka, Shulyavka Nyvky etc.) and on the left bank of the Dnipro river that were poor, with really small apartments, with cheap heating systems that were broken most of the time, etc. Those projects were for the "proles" (Orwell), for the rank-and-file workers, people who worked low paying, low-ranking jobs (schoolteachers, district doctors - yes, those were at the bottom of the food chain in the USSR! - accountants, secretaries etc.).

So, at the end of the day, yes, there was a "stigma" - but not because of living in a project; rather, the stigma could be associated with living in particular projects.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2009, 09:29:19 AM by Heorhij » Logged

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