Opera

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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The State of Soviet Housing Stock


Unlike the UK, where most towns and cities display an infinite variety of housing styles, the Ukraine is stuck predominantly with two. Soviet Social and Russian Renaissance. The latter, is generally a 15 stories plus, modern jerry built structure, often with rounded corners and topped out with orthodox inspired domes.
The Soviet stock seems to have been inspired by Lego; both the shape and building materials. There seems to be about 3 basic designs, 5 story, 9 story and 12 story all of which are rectangular and utterly uniform. We are house hunting for Soviet stock based on two factors, firstly it’s cheaper and secondly its less likely to fall down.
When I first started to look at flats with Tania, it was somewhat of a culture shock. Many of the buildings look like prison blocks, some of them after a riot. From grey breezeblock to cheap and unevenly laid bricks, the exteriors are beyond depressing.
Usually it doesn’t get any better when you enter, the impression of a prison continues at the entrance doors. Heavy, steel and windowless they look as inviting as a cup of tea with Dr Crippen. The more upmarket ones are locked and have either a code to enter or a little magnetic key. In the down-market versions, the doors are open wider than jaws of a nun in a sex shop.
A Once Grand Staircase
It doesnt even get better with the lobbies. Because nobody owns or generally cares about the lobby areas, they are dark, unkempt, musty and dirty. Some owners have installed nice lights outside the doors to their flats but many haven’t. Negotiating the lobby stairs at night is best done with a Labrador in tow and without touching the handrails. Buildings over 5 stories will usually have lifts. These generally look like the lobbies only a lot smaller. They are dark dank and small, with the ability to turn a career Agoraphobe, Claustrophobic. Rather than rise smoothly up inside the building, they clang and clank, bashing into god knows what jutting into the lifts shaft. I am not sure if the buttons inside represent the floor you require or your chances of survival.

As dark and depressing as this sounds, its not all bad. When you go through the doors to a Ukrainian apartment its like crossing some sort of mythical border between the third world and the first. Most apartments are well decorated, often double glazed with high ceilings and thick walls. In fact better than most new builds in the UK. The Soviet touches are still there; the central heating will be communal and switched on only outside the summer, a modern boiler is need if you want hot water in July. Unless renovated the pipework will have been fitted with all the finesse of surgeon wearing boxing gloves and the electrical circuits may require you to earth yourself before switching on a light. In general though the apartments are nice. We haven’t really seen a very bad one, apart from the one we are renting at the moment and there have been a few which have been interested in buying. It’s just a shame about the estate agents!