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Feature Story May 27, 2004
 
Lincoln Log Livin'
Life without sewage in downtown Irkutsk By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
 

Just a block away from Irkutsk's main intersection, where Karl Marx St. and Lenin St. cross paths, the rather typical turn-of-the-19th-century provincial Russian brick buildings give way to a much more shocking spectacle. Here, and all around the center, there're hundred-year-old one- and two-storey wooden Lincoln Log Cabins that the Soviets never got around to replacing with prefab concrete slabs. The buildings themselves are kind of compelling, with quaint decorative trimmings, large windows and more personality than just about anything else you're likely to see in a provincial town from Brest to Vladivostok. But it's hard to believe anyone lives in them. Russians have never been known for their zeal for maintaining buildings, and it's not tough to imagine how off the radar these relics were during 70 years of collective ownership. The commies always assumed that these old houses would eventually be liquidated, just like everything else pre-Revolutionary. As such, the buildings weren't worth the resources it'd cost to keep them in shape. After all those years of neglect, it's a miracle that any are still standing, and a tribute to Russian craftsmanship of yore.

Still, not only are they in a horrendous state of repair, with many of them literally sinking into the ground, but they're occupied by an assortment of Russia's poorest groups -- alcoholics, pensioners, and workers. These people have nowhere else to go and no resources to fix up their homes. Nor would they want to. Most of these buildings were never fitted with luxuries like running water or central heating and, with the exception of electricity, the folks living there aren't much better off than the people who built the buildings 100 years ago. Actually, many of them have it worse, since these buildings used to house people with money who could afford to have servants take their shit out for them. Following the Revolution, the factory directors' and merchants' houses were subdivided into separate apartments and kommunalki (communal apartments). Skip forward through several generations of decay, as living standards improved elsewhere, and by now these buildings have lapsed into third world conditions. The only real difference is that Irkutsk lacks the tropical climate that consoles most other third worlders.

Vova's historic house

Vova's historic house

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