A Muscovite answered the question that has been bothering many: What is it like for average Russians living in Moscow’s big grey buildings?

In her recent YouTube video, Eli showcases the ubiquitous gray apartment blocks that so characterize the Soviet era and provides an insightful tour of her living space.

Soviet Era Apartments

A Soviet Era Apartment
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

“Not all parts of Moscow are impressive like the Red Square. In fact, there are many neighborhoods like mine characterized by typical Soviet-era residential buildings,” Eli explains.

These apartment blocks all speak to historical housing issues and every leader since Joseph Stalin tried to solve them with mass housing projects.

As testimonies to the different administrations vying for relevance in Russian history, apartments were named after the leaders who ruled when they were built. 

Apartment Buildings Named After Russian Leaders

Stalin, Kruschev, Brezhnev
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/John Kennedy Library/ Netherlands National Archive

The oldest variants are the Stalinkas followed by the Kruschevkas and then the Breznevkas.

As Eli walks through the housing complexes, the camera pans out on courtyards and children’s playgrounds with Jungle Gyms swings, and merry-go-rounds.

To one side of the courtyard is a Stalinka, built by Stalin for Soviet elites between the 1930s and the late 1950s. 

The Stalinka for Soviet Elites 

Stalinka Apartment Builing
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

These structures exude meticulous architecture and boast the austerely monumental lines adopted only by courthouses and museums in the West.

They boast airy entrances and halls with roofs that are between three and four meters high.

These buildings were Stalin’s answer to an era of rapid Russian industrialization and a proportionate demand for housing in the city’s capital.

The Kruschevka for the Post-WWII Family

Khrushchevka Apartment Building
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

Kruschevkas are the polar opposite and were built in the post-WWII years under Nikita Kruschev. 

This era of residential development favored practicality over sentiment and was directed at the average Russian seeking a roof over his or her head in the proximity of the capital city.

These gray structures continued to spring up between the 1950s and the 1980s with their defining priorities being speed and economy.

“Unlike ‘Stalinkas’,” Eli explains, “they were very compact and cheap and simple to build.”

Shoebox-Like Kitchens

The Russian Kruschevka Kitchen
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

“There is no elevator here and that’s why most of the Khruschevkas have five floors because according to the Soviet standards, if the building has more than five floors they have to build an elevator, and that would increase the cost of construction,” Eli explains.

Kruschevkas, initially intended to be temporary solutions, were meant to be replaced after the development of the Soviet Union. 

At the time these shoebox-like kitchens were touted as thoughtful designs with the Russian homemaker in mind. 

Scientists Claimed To Have Built the Kitchens Small Deliberately

Russian Soviet Era Kitchen Ad
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

It was claimed that the architects and “scientists” built these kitchens small deliberately.

The purported rationale behind it was everything was within arm’s length allowing the housewife to “avoid unnecessary movements” and eliminating the need to walk what felt like “kilometers”. 

Being a Stalinka resident, Eli was able to show off the inside of one of these apartments. 

Entering through the lobby – or in Russian, ‘padyezd’ – of her Kruschevka building, one of the first things to catch the eye is the freshly painted walls. But the powder blue coating does not hide chips and wear marks.

Extra Security 

Eli and Her Extra Security
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

When she gets to her unit, she opens up two doors – one of which has a multi-barrelled lock – and remarks: “Extra Security”.

Eli shares her one-room rental apartment with her flatmate, Dasha. 

“Dasha is a typical person (female) from Siberia who came to Moscow to make some money and to find success,” Eli says in the way of introduction.

The Must-Have Mantel Piece

The Must-Have Mantle Piece
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

The home is cluttered with clothes and ornaments while the yellowing walls and creaking floors speak of age and perhaps neglect. 

Despite the spacial challenges, there is a windowed mantle piece showcasing the household’s finest glassware along with a single row of thick books. “Classical Russian Literature,” Eli explains. 

It’s a “must-have” in every Russian apartment.

Eli then heads out onto the balcony and it immediately becomes clear that Moscow apartments’ outdoor spaces do not enjoy the same value as their counterparts in the West.

Balconies Used for Storage 

A Khruschevka Balcony
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

The balconies on Khruschevkas, ironically, are the most unsightly parts of the building. They are used for storage and brim with unused furniture.

Some balconies have after-market windows installed while others are crudely covered in tarpaulin presenting glaring eyesores while their inanimate occupants poke out at odd angles.

“It’s not like for example somewhere in Italy when it’s a nice balcony and people are drinking coffee–also it’s quite [cold outside] here for coffee,” Eli explains.

Windows Between Kitchens and Bathrooms

Window Between Kitchens and Bathrooms
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

The Kruschevka’s kitchen is small, and like the rest of the apartment, cluttered. 

As a nod to an era when the KGB kept a close eye on the Russian population, there are transparent glass panes between kitchens and bathrooms in every Khruschevka.

“Of course, a Soviet person was always under surveillance of the communist party and they always need to check what media you are reading and what newspapers you’re reading even in the bathroom the big brother is always watching you,” Eli Says while peeping at Dasha on the loo.

‘What I Saw There Is Not Information for Everyone’

Eli and Her Secret Door
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

Above the entrance leading into the kitchen is a square door. Eli claims that up until then it never occured to her to see what was behind it, and plucks up the courage to take a peek.

Gauging by the amount of time she spends staring into the mysterious void, there is definitely something worth looking at but she merely offers: “What I saw there is not information for everyone” in the way of explanation.

Eli explains that these small mass-produced apartments that have become – if not monotonous – unsightly, were at a time in high demand. They provided homes to families whose only other alternatives were communal housing with shared bathrooms.

The Brezhnevka Upgrade

Brezhnevka Apartment Building
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

In time, the novelty of the Kruschevkas waned and when Leonid Brezhnev came to power, their occupants complained about the size of these small apartments.

Brezhnev’s answer was (you guessed it) the Brezhnevka.

Under the 18-year rule of this leader, the communist party built taller and wider apartment buildings with elevators, trash chutes, and larger kitchens.

Eli notes that these buildings were constructed until the end of the 1990s. 

Novostroika: Like an Ant Heap With Ants in It

The Modern Novostroika Apartment
Image Credit: YouTube/Eli From Russia

When the Brezhnev era ended, so did the legacy of naming apartment buildings after Russian leaders.

Soviet-era mass housing solutions have been replaced by the modern Novostroika.

While these residential highrises are second only to the Stalinskas, Eli says that she would never buy up in one of them because, to her, the people who occupy them are like ants in an ant heap.