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A red flag hangs from an apartment building in Perm’s workers’ district.

Rebuilding the past How a single Trotskyist activist restored a dilapidated public housing block in Perm to its former socialist glory

Source: Meduza
A red flag hangs from an apartment building in Perm’s workers’ district.
A red flag hangs from an apartment building in Perm’s workers’ district.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza

In the late 1920s to early 1930s, a socialized town (sotsgorodok) sprang up around the Motovilikha military equipment plant in Perm, Russia. It boasted three dozen buildings in the avant-garde architectural style that were supposed to become a symbol of a new proletarian way of life. Decades later, these blocks had become a neighborhood of dilapidated houses for the underprivileged. Then, socialist activist Anastasia Maltseva came along and changed everything. For 10 years, she took officials to court and battled with contractors, local drunks, and neighbors who disagreed with her approach to improving the neighborhood. Now, her block looks like a fashionable, gentrified space, albeit with red flags and socialist slogans. Journalist Mikhail Danilovich recounts how Maltseva managed this — and why this little leftist utopia even found a place in its heart for Alexey Navalny.

14 Tsiolkovsky Street is an 80-year-old four-story brick building in the Motovilikha neighborhood of Perm. It’s only 15 minutes on the tram from this neighborhood to the city center, but to me, it seemed like it was on the far outskirts. The building was covered with graffiti, with light yellow paint flaking off the façade. Inside the entrance, the concrete stairs were dented, and the walls were peeling. A dull lightbulb hung on a wire from the ceiling. There was a smell of urine. The door to the building was open, and as a result, it was cold inside on that late October day.

A woman in a colorless synthetic shawl walked down from the top of the stairs. She asked my photographer and me whether we had come to make repairs to the building. After learning that we had not, she continued on her way.

This building, together with the other three dozen buildings nearby, makes up the workers’ district — a utopian socialist town, or sotsgorodok, that was built back in the late 1920s to early 1930s. The town was supposed to become a model of the new proletarian way of life, but for much of its history, it was more of a symbol for the collapse of socialist ideas. Long before the fall of the Soviet Union, these old three- and four-story brick buildings (which primarily housed communal apartments) were considered in Perm to be undesirable housing.

This complex of early Soviet avant-garde architecture, like dozens of others throughout Russia, has turned into ruins and may soon disappear altogether. That is, if it doesn’t experience what has already happened to one of the blocks here, which has undergone a true rebirth in the past few years. The restored block is located directly across the street from this shabby four-story building, though it looked just about as shabby only a few years ago. The renovated courtyard revealed an even lawn and immaculate sidewalks. In the courtyard, which was covered with fine gravel, there were kiosks set up for a street festival. With their old yet well-maintained brick walls, the buildings themselves — austere three-story structures from the time of the first five-year plan — did not bring to mind a blighted working-class neighborhood, but rather a stylish place with history, like Moscow’s Depo food mall.

The person to thank for the fact that this block differs so drastically from the others is Anastasia Maltseva, a local outsider politician. In Perm, she is known for her frequent participation in public protests. The local press called the changes that have taken place in the workers’ district as a result of her efforts “socialism in a single, separate neighborhood of Perm,” referring not only to what used to be a socialized town, but also to the fact that Maltseva espouses left-wing beliefs.

On the block where Maltseva herself bought an apartment some time ago, she has her ideological supporters (people who purposely moved to the workers’ district because they believed in her project), as well as opponents (neighbors who accuse the socialist of usurping power and harassing those she found socially undesirable).

Anastasia Maltseva at a protest against increasing public transportation fares.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza

A worker and a revolutionary

In 1988, when Anastasia Maltseva was 13 years old, her teacher assigned her to do a presentation on The State and Revolution, a book by Vladimir Lenin. The eighth grader, who came from a working-class family and attended a regular Motovilikha school, conscientiously took to the assignment. She read the book — and was puzzled by what she read.

Maltseva realized that conditions in Soviet society were far from what Lenin described. “A planned economy is meant to provide for every last member of society,” Anastasia said in a conversation with Meduza, recalling her experience from 30 years ago. “There have to be elections and turnover in leadership positions. There’s not supposed to be anything as big as a political party — everything’s supposed to be managed by councils of various levels.”

In class, she expressed her doubts about the late Soviet Union’s faithfulness to Lenin’s ideals. Her classmates, Anastasia said, listened attentively to her presentation, but her teacher interrupted her and demanded that she “get out!”

If the teacher’s intention was for her student to take an interest in the works of leftist thinkers, then she was successful. Anastasia Maltseva began to read leftist literature zealously. Now, she calls herself a Trotskyist.

In the late 1990s, the young socialist joined the unregistered Revolutionary Workers’ Party, and in 2002, she became the leader of its Perm division. In her 44 years, Anastasia has managed to run in several political elections: the State Duma election in 2003, the Perm mayoral election in 2006, and the Perm City Duma election in 2016. Each time, the outcome was unremarkable, to say the least.

At the same time, Maltseva was marching in street protests. In 2004, together with other leftist activists, she organized a strike to protest the closing of the municipal bus company. In 2005, she spoke out against the Russian government’s monetization of social benefits. It was Anastasia’s work on the streets in particular that made her a well-known figure in the city. It was then, in the 2000s, that Maltseva gained experience in court battles — she helped Perm’s public housing residents gain private ownership of their homes.

A move to the “haunted house”

Anastasia Maltseva settled in the workers’ district in the late 1990s, and not for any political reasons. After attending school and an agricultural academy, where she was trained as a florist, Maltseva enrolled in a St. Petersburg forestry academy. Having studied at the school for a couple years, she realized that she “kind of didn’t want to be a farm manager and a forester’s wife.” After moving back to Perm “to pick up some physics and math,” Anastasia went to a technical school to become an electrician. But then, at age 23, she enrolled in the surgery track at the medical academy in Perm. This entire time, Anastasia was living with her parents and sister in Motovilikha — in a one-bedroom apartment in a nine-story prefabricated concrete building two blocks from the workers’ district.

The fountain in the courtyard at 9 Tsiolkovsky Street in September 1935.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive
The courtyard by Anastasia Maltseva’s building before it was renovated.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive

Every day, she would walk past her current home at 9 Tsiolkovsky Street: the way to the bus and tram stops was through the building’s courtyard. According to Maltseva, by that time, the early Soviet-era homes newly designed for the proletariat looked more like public restrooms. Now and then, people stopped inside the building lobbies to relieve themselves. Someone was always drinking in the yard.

In 1997, the one-bedroom apartment became too cramped for Anastasia’s family: she and her sister both married, and their husbands settled into the apartment. “I was walking with my [first] husband, and we saw an announcement that an 80-square-meter [861-square-foot], three-bedroom apartment was for sale at 9 Tsiolkovsky Street,” Anastasia said. Her parents’ apartment, where the growing family was living, had an area of 48 square meters [517 square feet]. 

The decision to move was made at a family meeting. At first, Maltseva’s relatives did not want to move to a rough neighborhood, but the desire to double their living area without paying anything extra ultimately won out. The woman who lived in the apartment in the workers’ district quickly agreed to the trade: she wanted to move out of the “haunted house” as soon as possible.

Their new, big apartment had obvious flaws: There was no hot water, and no cold water either (to this day, there is no centralized water heating system in the building; residents use their own water boilers and heaters). Water came to the top floor, as Maltseva recalled, “like dew” — that is, in small amounts and only in the mornings. The sewage pipes often clogged, and Anastasia and her family always had a plumbing snake at the ready that they would insert into the sink or bathtub drain in order to remove the clogs.

Their neighbors were openly indifferent to the building’s condition, especially since the majority of them were living in communal apartments (currently, communal apartments make up 10 out of the 18 units in the building, and there used to be even more of them). Anastasia said that back then, her family was the first in the workers’ district to make any improvements to their building. At their own expense, they replaced the sewage and water risers for their apartment and the apartments of their downstairs neighbors. They fixed the wiring in the building lobby, screwed in lightbulbs, and installed light switches. The door to the building was outfitted with a combination lock. However, the family concentrated most of their energy on repairing their own apartment.

Seven years after the move, Maltseva’s parents divorced, and shortly after, her sister and brother-in-law moved to the Moscow region. Now, Anastasia lives in the workers’ district with her mother, Nina; her 93-year-old grandmother; her current husband, Vadim Lagutenko; their children; and their niece. Within a few years, the family (and first and foremost Anastasia) had become the unofficial leaders of their block, exerting influence over life in the entire neighborhood.

For clean basements and roofs

“All right, get rid of your cigarettes and leave before I call the police on both of you,” Maltseva said sternly to two teenagers who were smoking by the window in the lobby of her building. This was in August 2013, and the conversation was videotaped by Maltseva herself. She gave the tape to Meduza along with other video recordings and photographs of her efforts in the workers’ district. “Where am I supposed to put out the cigarette?” one of the teenagers asked. Anastasia’s voice rang out from behind the camera: “On yourself.”

Despite her self-assured behavior, in 2013 Maltseva did not even hold any official position in the building, and her current role is also practically symbolic. Anastasia is the authorized representative of the building’s unit owners. In her building, as in other buildings on the block, there is no homeowners’ association — apartment unit owners manage their property directly.

Maltseva’s neighbors had convinced her that it’s more convenient to manage a building directly. “[It was clear that] we couldn’t afford to join a homeowners’ association, and hiring a management company would have been like opening a window and throwing money out,” Maltseva said. Nina Maltseva, Anastasia’s mother, initially took on the role of the residents’ authorized representative. She held onto the position for seven years before her daughter took over. All the residents who spoke with Meduza confirmed that it was actually the younger Maltseva pulling the strings even before 2014.

9 Tsiolkovsky Street before its renovation.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive
The basement of Anastasia Maltseva’s building pre-renovation.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive
Anastasia Maltseva on the roof of her building during the renovation.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive

With her neighbors’ support, Anastasia immediately applied herself to the work, especially the dirtiest parts of it. A dark layer of sludge had accumulated in the basement of one section of the building. Judging from the smell and from the fact that there was a hole in the cast iron sewer pipes, the sludge was made of sewage. Municipal services agreed to drain the puddle before handing management of the building over to the residents, who paid to replace the sewer and water pipes themselves.

A mattress and a pile of clothes were found amid the junk piled up in another basement section — homeless people were living there. Maltseva and her husband gathered everything and took it to their own apartment. They padlocked the door to the basement and Scotch-taped a handwritten note to the door. The note included instructions on where to go to retrieve the belongings. When a group of homeless people showed up the next day, they were given their belongings back and offered the chance to stay in the basement under the condition that they work in the building as custodians. 

Maltseva’s husband, Vadim Lagutenko, said the group initially agreed, but after less than a month, they were gone, and they never even asked for their first paycheck. The building’s residents managed to recruit new custodians from among themselves (Maltseva is trying to get her neighbors to take on this type of work in the courtyard). That basement area now has a room with tables, wooden benches, and old shelves with books; the residents hold their meetings here. In the other basement section where there had previously been sewage, there is now a gym with kettlebells and punching bags.

There were also problems involving leaks in the roof. There used to be jars and even an old aquarium in the attic of the building for catching rainwater. Once in a while, the residents would take the containers and dump the water down the drain. Every heavy rainstorm became an ordeal: water would stream down the walls (it even reached the lower floors), and in the apartments on the third floor, pieces of soaked plaster would fall off. When dry, the plaster would still crumble whenever a door slammed. 

In 2010, Anastasia Maltseva and the other residents decided to tackle the problems head-on, and they resolved to make major repairs. In order to get public financial support for the project, they took legal action against the city and filed a claim in the name of one of the building’s residents.

That plaintiff was Artyom Trubin. He owns a two-room apartment on the top floor of 9 Tsiolkovsky Street that he inherited from his parents, and he now lives there with his wife and child. Artyom lived in the workers’ district as a child for a short period of time in the late 1990s, and when his parents divorced, he went to live with his grandmother in a rural village. He returned to Motovilikha in the mid-2000s, when he enrolled in the local pedagogical college.

Artyom recalls his childhood years on Tsiolkovsky Street joylessly: “It was a terrifying place! The kinds of houses that were there, the kinds of people — alcoholics, drug addicts. And there were criminal dens in the building. I was 10 years old in 1999, I had started playing hockey. I couldn’t walk around the workers’ district without my hockey stick. You’d be going to practice, and someone [would say]: ‘Come over here, that’s a nice hockey stick that you’ve got.’ These would be older boys who’d be drinking or doing whatever they’d be doing. So you’d fight [them off with the hockey stick], run away, and go practice. Walking back, you’re afraid, but you have no other choice.”

In the summer of 2010, Artyom was woken up one night when a piece of plaster fell on his head —a gust of wind had apparently caused the flimsy roof to lift slightly. The building residents went to court, which ruled two years later that the municipality should have made major repairs back in 2009, when Trubin’s apartment was privatized. It was not until 2013 that the court ruling was carried out. With the 20 million rubles (approximately $322,100) that they received from the city budget, the building residents repaired the roof, replaced the brick façade, cleaned up the basements, and waterproofed the foundation.

Anastasia Maltseva’s building during the repair process.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive

After that victory, four more buildings in the workers’ district transitioned to direct management, and in the next few years, so did the rest of the three-story buildings on the block. Eight more families from the workers’ district won similar court cases.

Anastasia Maltseva believes that the experience she gained from her time advocating for public housing residents, benefit recipients, and transit workers helped her, too. Just as she had done with the protesters, Maltseva helped apartment owners from the neighboring buildings in the workers’ district to organize, and she was also their representative in court. According to Maltseva, she accepted no more than 50,000 rubles (approximately $805) for her legal assistance each time.

The first results of a multi-year struggle

Maltseva’s work in the socialist town first started seeing results toward the end of 2014. The formerly neglected three-story building where Anastasia Maltseva lived with her family had been transformed. The pitched roof was covered with bright burgundy metal tiles. The windows had identical dark brown double-glazing with the same pattern as the old windows. The dirt on the brick walls had disappeared. The building entrance doors were also replaced. They were now iron doors — not the usual solid iron, but iron with glass, like the ones popular Russian urban blogger Ilya Varlamov often writes about in his reflections on friendly urban environments. To get into the building, you have to use a video intercom.

The building’s lobbies were also renovated. Their interiors are now more reminiscent of the atmosphere of a small office building than that of a typical Russian apartment block. The floors were covered in grey ceramic tiles; the walls were painted a uniform light yellow and even flecked with glitter. One of the residents said that it was Maltseva who had proposed painting the walls with glitter varnish. He feels that while this was no big deal, it was “not a very good design decision.”

Over the past year, these changes happening on the block became even more visible as the areas next to the buildings became much more well-maintained. Maltseva has bragged on Facebook (and with good reason) about how the view from her window has changed, sharing photos from the spring of 2018 and last fall as proof.

The workers’ district in September 2019.
Anastasia Maltseva’s archive

The money for upgrading the residential courtyards came from the city budget, but this time, it was part of the city’s beautification program and not the result of any court proceedings. The goal that Maltseva set was to restore the courtyard to how it had looked during the first years after the socialist town was built. In place of the trampled yard that used to turn into a muddy field when seasons changed, there was already a lawn and paved asphalt sidewalks — but there was still more to strive toward.

Even the successful revival of the workers’ district didn’t pass without conflict. Aside from her lawsuits against Perm’s city hall, Anastasia Maltseva also managed to battle with the contractors who were making the improvements and with the management companies that didn’t want to give up control of the buildings involved. In spring 2016, in the midst of yet another conflict, Maltseva wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the tiles that were brought in for the renovation of the building at 11 Tsiolkovsky Street, and the activist’s silver Nissan was set on fire by unknown arsonists.

The fire was put out by Anastasia’s neighbors even before the firefighters arrived. Among those who ran outside was Anastasia’s friend Yury Bobrov. “My car was parked next to hers. My neighbor called me and said, ‘Go move your car. Maltseva’s car is on fire.’ I ran out but didn’t know what to do — put out the fire in Maltseva’s car, or move my own. So as not to waste time, I started to put out the fire. I grabbed a little bucket and was scooping up water from a puddle and pouring it on the car — my fire extinguisher was empty. A whole bunch of neighbors ran out. It was complete chaos — some people with buckets, some people with fire extinguishers. We put out the fire in two minutes,” he said.

The 11-year-old Nissan Almera wasn’t seriously damaged. Anastasia Maltseva later restored the vehicle and drove it for another six months before she sold it.

Socialism for Navalny

Yury Bobrov is a political activist like Maltseva. He’s not a socialist, but a liberal and a member of Alexei Navalny’s Perm-based staff. That does not prevent him from supporting Anastasia’s project in the workers’ district. Different banners and slogans come together in the most unexpected ways in this part of the city.

For example, since late September 2019, bright red flags have been hung up around the socialist town. They’re fastened to brackets on the walls of the buildings, and the sight reminds one of how the city looked during official holidays in the Soviet era. The banners were initially put up for the 90th anniversary of the workers’ district. Everyone was invited to the celebration. People grilled shashliks and burgers in the yard. There were games organized for the children and dances for the adults, and Maltseva gave a tour of the neighborhood.

There are also more deeply rooted propagandizing traditions. Before May 1 (International Workers’ Day) and November 7 (October Revolution Day), a 10-meter-long (32.8 feet) bright red banner appears on the roof of 9 Tsiolkovsky Street. The white letters on the banner read: “We are for socialism!”

Vadim Lagutenko, Maltseva’s husband, said that the banner isn’t taken down for two or three months after May Day and October Revolution Day. Moreover, the banner is deliberately hung in such a way that it can be seen more easily from the bustling Ural Street. Lagutenko explained that this is due to the “communist convictions” of many of the residents on the block.

The yard between 13 Tsiolkovsky Street and 11 Tsiolkovsky Street.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza

In November 2017, a sign with a socialist slogan was hanging on the building, yet a “Navalny 2018” sign had appeared in the yard. The Perm rally for the opposition candidate during his Russian presidential campaign tour took place right in the workers’ district.

Navalny’s local headquarters said that due to opposition from the authorities, they had been unable at the time to find a building or an area outside where voters could meet with Navalny. Maltseva herself proposed to Bobrov that Navalny’s rally be organized in the workers’ district. “‘Well, what are we supposed to do with you liberals?’” Yury recalled her words. “‘At the end of the day, freedom of assembly is our shared value.’”

“All this communist activity [in the socialist town] is intrinsically connected with people’s political positions,” Bobrov explained. “Why did they choose direct management [of the buildings]? This was dictated not only by legal and technical considerations, but also by ideological ones. With direct management, there are no superiors. Rather, there’s more or less equal representation among the people.”

An anthill for the right ants

Since 2012, Yury Bobrov has twice changed apartments in the workers’ district. Now, he and his wife have divorced, and he is renting a separate room there. Yury had been looking for an apartment for himself, his mother, and his brother, and he called around to people he knew. One of the people he called was Maltseva, who said that a three-room apartment in one of the buildings adjacent to hers had just been put up for sale. “Literally the next day, she [the owner] was going to sign a preliminary contract and take the deposit [from the buyer]. I basically had an hour, an hour and a half, to outbid [the other buyers],” Yury said. He didn’t deliberate for long, because, as he said, he “absolutely believed” in Anastasia’s vision. Moreover, at that time, there were no more problems with the water and plumbing in those apartments — only the façade, the lobbies, and the roofs remained in a state of disrepair.

In 2014-2015, Yury and his wife (they have four children) purchased another apartment in the same building. It was a communal apartment, and the couple bought it out room by room. One of the rooms in the unit had formerly belonged to Svetlana B. (she asked Meduza not to print her surname). Now, Svetlana lives in a different communal apartment on the nearby Lebedeva Street, and in her conversation with Meduza, she confessed: “Sometimes, I drink, and other times, I’m in rehab and I don’t drink.” Svetlana was wearing a colorful blouse, knee-length leggings, and pink rubber sandals during our interview. She invited me into the dimly lit hallway of her current apartment and asked for permission to smoke.

According to Svetlana, Bobrov and Maltseva forced her to move out, even though she liked living at 9 Tsiolkovsky Street: Her apartment was on the first floor, and she was able to go out into the courtyard in a robe and slippers. The atmosphere in the courtyard was lively — there would always be people, and the neighbors would be drinking and singing songs. Svetlana often had guests come over.

She recalled that at one point, a friend had wanted to visit her but ran into Maltseva in the lobby. Maltseva supposedly refused to let the friend come in, after which Svetlana’s friend, as Svetlana put it, “broke [Maltseva’s] arm.” Maltseva’s version of what happened was that she had seen a woman she did not know relieving herself in the lobby. She tried to get the woman to stand up, but the woman pushed her, and the activist hit her arm against the metal banister and broke the bones in her hand and wrist. Anastasia said that despite her injury, she “threw the guest out into the snowdrift,” and then she went to the emergency room and the police station. Svetlana’s friend received a suspended sentence — but on what charges, Meduza’s sources did not remember.

Yury Bobrov’s ex-wife, Yekaterina Zotina, said that Maltseva, in proposing that they buy out Svetlana’s communal apartment, had put it this way: “There’s this one apartment that’s just so horrible and overrun by alcoholics. They ruin everything here and need to be settled elsewhere.” Because of Svetlana, “all the drunks, like bed bugs, have established a well-trodden path into our lobby,” Maltseva told Meduza.

According to Bobrov, Maltseva’s plan worked: while “the alcoholics were having a ball” in the building before, now, they “are kept on their toes.”

“We used to chase them out regularly,” he said. “Cursing, kicking. Sometimes, it would come to fisticuffs, and you’d have to call the cops.”

Svetlana agreed that things truly have changed in her old building: “[At 9 Tsiolkovsky Street,] Shooter drinks, Iraidka drinks, but they do it in their little rooms. The sort of lawlessness that used to be, that’s over.” Nevertheless, she felt offended. In the new apartment that she moved to after selling her room in the communal apartment, the ceiling has already caved in twice. A particularly large chunk of plaster fell one night on the sofa where Svetlana’s husband sleeps. Fortunately, he had gone to the bathroom at the time.

Svetlana characterized the changes in the workers’ district as “a double-edged sword. It becomes: ‘I built my anthill, renovated it — and now only the ants I like should live here. And the ones I don’t like can go to hell.’”

Anastasia Maltseva.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza
The basement area of 9 Tsiolkovsky Street.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza
The gym in the basement of the building.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza

Grading suspicious neighbors

Conflicts have also arisen between Anastasia Maltseva and her former allies. Right now, she’s in a fight with her neighbor from the first floor — Bobrov’s ex-wife, Yekaterina Zotina.

The relationship between Maltseva and Zotina has been strained for two years already. After the divorce, Yekaterina took the weed trimmer that she and her ex-husband had purchased together. Bobrov had handed the tool over to the building’s collection of communal property, but Zotina did not agree to that exchange and took it back home. That, at least, is Zotina’s version of what happened. Maltseva claims that she has not spoken to Zotina since the latter “threw Bobrov’s things out” on the lawn.

In the summer of 2019, the residents started to receive receipts from the State Fund for Major Repairs. However, the stubs from the building clerk still said “additional collection for major repairs,” indicating that the recipient still owed money. When Zotina noticed this, she did not take her questions to Maltseva. Instead, to understand whether it was worth paying twice for the repairs, Zotina went to the government fund itself. There, she was told that money can only be collected by the fund.

Zotina then hung up announcements in the building proposing a meeting to discuss the situation. For a long time, she was unable to convene a meeting, so the discussion took place over a Viber group chat. Maltseva clarified that the money collected for major repairs does in fact go toward other needs — specifically, building maintenance and routine repairs (there are also lines on the receipts for those purposes, but the funds collected for them were insufficient).

Yury Bobrov told Meduza that he has “never delved into the accounting, nor been suspicious about non-earmarked spending.”

“I put everyone who was and is suspicious on a scale, where on the far left you have dumbasses and on the far right you have a**holes,” Bobrov explained. “If they don’t value the reconstruction project, if they have no personal involvement with it and only complain that we’re only saving two rubles [relative to the city rate], then their status is diminished in my eyes.”

Yekaterina Zotina told Meduza about yet another point of dissatisfaction, this one concerning the mansard roof that the residents of the third floor, including Anastasia Maltseva, have used to patch up the attic (attics are considered the property of all of the building residents). Artyom Trubin, the plaintiff for the residents’ first major court case in 2012, did not want to show Meduza’s correspondent his rooms, which are now on the second floor of a two-floor apartment. “A lot of people are envious,” Trubin explained. He said that the mansard roof was his “little bonus.”

Anastasia Maltseva said that she and other unit owners on the top floor are preparing to legally formalize the reconfiguration of the apartments, and she asked me not to write about the attic of 9 Tsiolkovsky Street. According to Maltseva, if she and her neighbors are able to legalize the mansard roofs, this will set a precedent for Perm. “The entire city will be able to use this,” she explained.

9 Tsiolkovsky Street.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza
“The Courtyard in the 1930s,” a graffiti piece by Aleksandr Zhunyov in the workers’ district.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza
An apple tree planted in the 1930s in the workers’ district.
Yaroslav Chernov for Meduza

An incredibly energetic person

In 2018, the buildings in the Perm workers’ district became a regional cultural heritage site called “The ‘Workers’ District’ Socialist Town.” Paradoxically, that protected status made further renovations of these historical buildings difficult. Now, repairs are limited out of concern that they might affect the appearance of the buildings or the building complex as a whole.

In practice, this means paperwork has to be prepared before anything in a protected building is renovated, even if the building is in critical condition. Maltseva confirmed that during the major renovations of the workers’ district, the residents had building assessments done that ran to tens of thousands of rubles (equivalent to hundreds of dollars).

The fact that the residents nevertheless put together the paperwork and restored the buildings distinguishes the fate of Perm’s socialist town from that of most other early Soviet landmarks. Leonid Salmin, a professor at the Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts, lives on a block that was built in the late 1920s to early 1930s in Yekaterinburg’s Chekist Town. The area is now in a dire state. On the issue of Russia’s policies for the preservation of avant-garde architecture, Salmin said tersely: “This cannot be called preservation.” In his estimation, in Moscow as well as in the rest of the country — with rare exceptions (for instance, the Narkomfin Building in Moscow) — buildings are gradually falling into disrepair. The professor is convinced that there is no strategy that would preserve these landmarks, as neither the government nor businesses understand the value of buildings from that era.

A researcher of architecture and an associate professor at Ural Federal University, Larisa Piskunova also lives in the Chekist Town. In a conversation with Meduza, she first scrupulously clarified that while the workers’ district in Perm is built in the avant-garde style, it is not constructivist because the architects of the socialist town in Motovilikha did not belong to any guilds of constructivist artists. That being said, Piskunova considers the multi-unit buildings in the workers’ district to be “important as witnesses to the epoch, witnesses to the social project that was realized within their walls.”

Piskunova has traveled to Perm in order to study the block. She could not recall another case in Russia where avant-garde buildings were restored thanks to the efforts of their inhabitants. “Anastasia Maltseva, who’s at the head of this work, is an incredible person in her infectious energy, stubbornness, and organizational talent,” Piskunova said.

Yury Bobrov called what Maltseva is doing “expanding our dreams.” He explained, “It’s a dream of doing something not only in your own apartment, but also in the lobby, a dream of building a mansard roof.” In the beginning, Yury continued, few people believed that Maltseva would be successful, because “more than half of this was the project of a single person.”

“The mastermind, the executor, and the lobbyist of this project are, of course, Nastya [Anastasia],” he said.

Among Maltseva’s plans is to open an open-air museum on her block in the socialist town. She wants to have a collection of plaster sculptures in the courtyard that are typical of the Soviet era: a discus thrower, a young woman with an oar, Young Pioneers with musical instruments. The activist hopes that she’ll be able to open a museum of the workers’ district “out of one of the basements.”

Yet another dream of Maltseva’s is to have a working fountain in the center of the courtyard, where the asphalt paths join at one point. There had been a fountain in this spot during the first years of the socialist town’s existence.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Story by Mikhail Danilovich, Fourth Sector media project, reporting from Perm

Editing by Vladislav Gorin

Translation by Sydney Lazarus