ENGELS, Russia -- On July 19, a power surge ran through a dilapidated Soviet-era apartment building in the Saratov Oblast city of Engels, blowing out TVs, computers, and appliances. For some residents, it was the last straw in a long-running dispute with the company selected by the city to provide communal services.
When company officials arrived at No. 58 Kolotilova Street, around two dozen angry residents met them in the courtyard and began berating them about the condition of the building: leaking pipes, drafty windows, collapsing ceilings, and balconies that were barely clinging to the side of the five-story building.
Fifty-seven-year-old pensioner Igor Antoshkin had had enough. He went up to his fourth-floor balcony overlooking the crowd and began shaking the railing to demonstrate how poorly it had been "repaired." On the third shake, the railing detached and Antoshkin fell to the ground. An ambulance was called, but later that night he died in the hospital.
"If they had fixed the electricity before, this tragedy wouldn't have happened," said Lyudmila, a resident of the building who asked that her last name not be used.
The communal-services company, Riko, declined RFE/RL's requests for comment. However, Riko director Mikhail Morozov, in an interview with the local website Svobodniye Novosti, sought to blame Antoshin for the tragedy.
"Local residents had been partying there for three days, celebrating some birthday," he said. "On the third day, they went completely crazy, and this particular resident, who weighed at least 120 kilograms, leaned with all his weight on the barrier. It broke, and he fell down with it."
Neighbor Lyudmila told RFE/RL she had seen Morozov on local television claiming that all of the balconies on Riko-managed buildings were in good condition.
"Just walk around," she said, "and take a look. There are many balconies worse than ours. They don't want to do anything except take our money."
Residents of the building pay 16 rubles ($0.62) per square meter per month for communal services, among the highest rates in the city. Three years ago, residents told RFE/RL, they applied formally to Riko asking for a total repair of the balconies and providing evidence of their dangerous condition. The company never formally responded, but informally told residents that "there is no money."
It is a common story across Russia, where millions of people live in housing stock that has outlived its service lifetime and complain that the fees they pay for communal services simply disappear.
Just three days after the Antoshkin tragedy, another balcony fell off a residential building in Engels. No one was injured because that balcony had been condemned and closed off in 2009. In nearby Saratov, on July 22, a large chunk of flooring fell from an upper-floor balcony of a building built in 1917, crashing through a second-floor balcony before smashing to the ground.
In July 2017, a 76-year-old man in the Engels suburb of Letny Gorodok was seriously injured when his third-floor balcony collapsed.
"This isn't the first case of a balcony collapsing in Letny Gorodok," an unnamed law enforcement source was quoted as saying at the time. "This building, No. 23, like many others, should be condemned."
In the wake of Antoshkin's death, the railing on his balcony was crudely repaired. One floor up, his elderly neighbor, who asked that only her first name -- Valentina -- be used, told RFE/RL that her collapsing balcony will be repaired as well.
"Tomorrow they are coming to fix the balcony," Valentina said. "Earlier, they told me it would cost me 23,000 rubles ($365). But now they are going to fix it. And they are going to turn the electricity back on in the whole building!"