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The Clock Is Ticking For Russia's 'Khrushchyovki'

  • Amos Chapple

A recent decision by President Vladimir Putin marks the beginning of the end in Russia for the "temporary" Soviet-era apartments -- the khrushchyovki -- which still house millions.


A krushchyovka apartment block lurks in the shadow of Moscow's skyscrapers. On February 21, Putin backed a plan to demolish and replace all such apartments remaining in Moscow by the end of 2018. An estimated 1.6 million Muscovites live in the boxy, five-storey apartments named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. 
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A krushchyovka apartment block lurks in the shadow of Moscow's skyscrapers. On February 21, Putin backed a plan to demolish and replace all such apartments remaining in Moscow by the end of 2018. An estimated 1.6 million Muscovites live in the boxy, five-storey apartments named after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. 

Clouds of crows swirl over a khrushchyovka in Moldova's Transdniester region. Decades after their planned lifespan of 25 years expired, the apartment blocks stand today as a bleak reminder of a very different time. 
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Clouds of crows swirl over a khrushchyovka in Moldova's Transdniester region. Decades after their planned lifespan of 25 years expired, the apartment blocks stand today as a bleak reminder of a very different time. 

Under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the people of the Soviet Union were hauled onto the factory floor as part of his plan to turn the U.S.S.R into an industrial superpower. Between the 1920s and 1958, when this photo of a Siberian iron foundry was taken, the urban population of the Soviet Union jumped from around 18 percent to more than 50 percent and housing was in short supply.
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Under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the people of the Soviet Union were hauled onto the factory floor as part of his plan to turn the U.S.S.R into an industrial superpower. Between the 1920s and 1958, when this photo of a Siberian iron foundry was taken, the urban population of the Soviet Union jumped from around 18 percent to more than 50 percent and housing was in short supply.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (third from left), who came to power following Stalin's death in 1953, being shown a prototypical American kitchen at an exhibition in 1959. With his citizens squeezed into communal apartments and the urban population continuing its rapid increase, the housing crisis in Khrushchev's Soviet Union was urgent (U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon is to the right of Khrushchev, and next to him is future Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev). 
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Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (third from left), who came to power following Stalin's death in 1953, being shown a prototypical American kitchen at an exhibition in 1959. With his citizens squeezed into communal apartments and the urban population continuing its rapid increase, the housing crisis in Khrushchev's Soviet Union was urgent (U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon is to the right of Khrushchev, and next to him is future Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev). 

An apartment wall for a khrushchyovka being loaded onto a truck for delivery to a building site in Hungary. With free housing promised to Soviet citizens, a primary concern in the design of housing was the cost. Prefabricated khrushchyovki were to be a temporary solution, designed to last only until "full communism" was reached.
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An apartment wall for a khrushchyovka being loaded onto a truck for delivery to a building site in Hungary. With free housing promised to Soviet citizens, a primary concern in the design of housing was the cost. Prefabricated khrushchyovki were to be a temporary solution, designed to last only until "full communism" was reached.

Models adding a flash of glamor to a newly constructed block of khrushchyovki in Moldova in 1966. For financial reasons, the apartment blocks did without "architectural excesses."
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Models adding a flash of glamor to a newly constructed block of khrushchyovki in Moldova in 1966. For financial reasons, the apartment blocks did without "architectural excesses."

A Russian man in the kitchen of his khrushchyovka. The apartments usually feature a gas stove and central heating. Khrushchyovki are also known for their poor sound insulation -- it's not uncommon for a sleepy resident to tap a coin on the heating pipes in an attempt to hush a noisy neighbor. 
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A Russian man in the kitchen of his khrushchyovka. The apartments usually feature a gas stove and central heating. Khrushchyovki are also known for their poor sound insulation -- it's not uncommon for a sleepy resident to tap a coin on the heating pipes in an attempt to hush a noisy neighbor. 

Apartment blocks in Belarus in the early 1970s. The squat design was a result of a Soviet requirement for all buildings above five storeys to be fitted with a lift. Foregoing an elevator meant the design was simplified and significantly cheaper to build. 
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Apartment blocks in Belarus in the early 1970s. The squat design was a result of a Soviet requirement for all buildings above five storeys to be fitted with a lift. Foregoing an elevator meant the design was simplified and significantly cheaper to build. 

As a result of the ubiquitous design, even the farthest flung corners of the Soviet Union came to look the same by the end of Khrushchev's reign. This photo shows khrushchyovki in the town of Nurek, Tajikistan. 
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As a result of the ubiquitous design, even the farthest flung corners of the Soviet Union came to look the same by the end of Khrushchev's reign. This photo shows khrushchyovki in the town of Nurek, Tajikistan. 

By 1991, the dream of a worker's paradise had collapsed, but the khrushchyovki remained. 
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By 1991, the dream of a worker's paradise had collapsed, but the khrushchyovki remained. 

Today, the lack of an elevator creates significant problems for aging residents, as well as those -- such as wheelchair-bound Dmitry Bibikov -- who became disabled since moving into their krushchovka.
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Today, the lack of an elevator creates significant problems for aging residents, as well as those -- such as wheelchair-bound Dmitry Bibikov -- who became disabled since moving into their krushchovka.

Bibikov, a resident of the Russian city of Voronezh, designed a pulley system to lift him to the fifth floor apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Oksana. 
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Bibikov, a resident of the Russian city of Voronezh, designed a pulley system to lift him to the fifth floor apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Oksana. 

A collapsed khrushchyovki in the Russian city of Mezhdurechensk in 2014. One reason for the decision to raze Moscow's remaining khrushchyovki is likely for safety reasons: in recent years Russia has seen a spate of Soviet-era apartments collapsing or exploding as a result of a gas leak. 
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A collapsed khrushchyovki in the Russian city of Mezhdurechensk in 2014. One reason for the decision to raze Moscow's remaining khrushchyovki is likely for safety reasons: in recent years Russia has seen a spate of Soviet-era apartments collapsing or exploding as a result of a gas leak. 

Khrushchyovki being demolished in Moscow in 2006. 
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Khrushchyovki being demolished in Moscow in 2006. 

A khrushchyovka decorated with a mural in Kyiv. Despite residents making the best of the apartments, which have served them for decades, the khrushchyovki of the former Soviet Union are one architectural icon unlikely to be missed. 
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A khrushchyovka decorated with a mural in Kyiv. Despite residents making the best of the apartments, which have served them for decades, the khrushchyovki of the former Soviet Union are one architectural icon unlikely to be missed. 

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