The Khrushchev Slums

One of the most noteworthy aspects of everyday Soviet life was the nature of their homes. While Westerners normally lived in single family houses and apartments, only about a third of Soviet families lived in single family homes. Just over half of the Soviet population lived in apartments, and about half of that portion lived in communal apartments, or kommunalki, in which several families shared a kitchen and bathroom.

Having a private apartment for each family had been a Soviet policy objective for decades, and Khrushchev took on housing reform as one of his primary goals. In order to rapidly increase the amount of single family housing, the Soviet government began to build easily-assembled, five-story concrete apartment buildings made out of prefabricated blocks. The result was a boom of low-quality neighborhoods of apartment buildings, nicknamed Khrushcheby, which rhymes with the Russian word for slums (trushchoby).

Modular Housing

Krushcheby were built out of prefabricated blocks

Khruscheby are significant because they represent the over-efficiency of the Soviet government. While Khrushchev’s rejection of Stalinism brought a lot of positive changes to the Soviet Union, he made Soviet housing less appealing compared to Western housing by enforcing such strict rules to get rid of everything “uneconomical.” Not only were the new apartments plain and uniform, but they were significantly smaller than the average Soviet living pace. The size of new kitchens and foyers were reduced by 35 percent, and ceiling heights were lowered by 2.5 meters.

Khrushchev underestimated the importance of some “uneconomical” things in everyday life, such as having visually appealing architecture or creating different styles of buildings. Soviet families didn’t need that extra 35 percent space in their kitchen or 2.5 meters to their ceiling, but by reducing the people’s living conditions, Khrushchev was promoting the idea that the Soviet people are constantly fighting to overcome some hardship. The Khrushcheby gave the Soviet people the impression that the USSR was surviving, not thriving. That without a doubt had an effect on Soviet morale.

8 comments

  1. Parker Leep · · Reply

    I think you did a great job with this post and it’s a really interesting read. I just had a question – did higher ups in the Soviet government get better apartments and perks or was this a uniform policy where everyone got the same size apartment? I definitely agree with your statement that this was much less appealing than western housing at the time – which was the growth of individual suburb houses. Interesting post!

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    1. I do know that wealthier people generally pitched in money to move into co-ops, which had a larger cap for meters / person. I’m not sure exactly about what kinds of benefits that the higher-ups got, but I’m sure they were living much more comfortably than the average Russian.

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  2. I thought this post was really interesting viewed in comparison to the film we watched in class. If I recall correctly, the majority of it took place within a communal apartment where the characters only had a private living space cordoned off by a hanging sheet, and it was already very small to begin with. I cannot imagine that most people would have chosen privacy over a 35% reduction in their living space, especially if it resulted in getting such a cheap and ugly apartment.

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  3. Max – If you ever have a horrible roommate you might rethink the assumption about trading space for privacy? ;-). Chris – so glad you reminded us of that great site at Colgate: http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/

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  4. Leah Robinson · · Reply

    Hi Chris!

    I think this is a great post! It was very interesting to read and compare how those in Soviet Russia were living compared to those in America. However, it was also interesting that reducing the space in an apartment alluded the fact that these Soviets were overcoming some hardship. I particularly find it interesting because last week in class Dr. Nelson mentioned that the mentality of overcoming hardships was quite pervasive in Soviet culture!

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  5. Great footage of the “Khrushchev Slums”. Growing up in a Virginia suburb of D.C. this type of housing is completely foreign to me. Although some cities in the U.S. have very similar housing “projects” that were government projects to simply get roofs over peoples heads.

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  6. Jimmy Meehan · · Reply

    I really liked the video you used in this post. It does a great job of advertising these single family apartments. It’s interesting to see how this effected the population’s moral. Despite the new housing, people saw this as the state only just getting by rather than prospering like the government would have everyone believe.

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