We stayed in two different apartment buildings during our two-year stay in the USSR in the late 1970s. We were in the first apartment for the vast majority of our time in Moscow. I think we stayed in the second one for about six weeks as we had to vacate the first one for the next occupants. I don’t remember it very well.
The first apartment was (is) located at 13 Kutuzovsky Avenue, or Кутозовский проспект, 13. Through the magic of Google Street View, I can see the building and I think it is the same building that I lived in more than 40 years ago. It looks a little nicer than I remember it.
The 11 story building is mostly L-shaped with a parking lot in the back. There was a small park/playground in the back as well.
This building was reserved for foreigners to live in. No Russians allowed! The entrance to the back parking lot was protected by a Soviet guard, who stood guard in a small hut at the gate. I’m pretty sure his role was mostly to document the comings and goings of everyone at the apartment.
I believe we lived on the 3rd floor – remembering that the ground floor is floor zero in Europe – and there was an elevator as well as stairs. I recall that the elevator was broken fairly often.
The apartment had a small kitchen with a gas stove, a dining room, a living room, one gross bathroom and (fortunately) three bedrooms so my sister and I could have our own rooms.
It was not fancy by any means. I remember there were occasionally cockroaches in the kitchen, and we had to boil our water before drinking it.
Big Brother Is Watching You
One thing you have to understand about Cold War Russia was that foreigners had no privacy. You were always watched. We understood that our apartment was “bugged” – some walls had obvious small circular protrusions.
It was very common for the Cold War adversaries to listen in on each other. This article talks about bugging of Soviet facilities by the USA, but the Soviets certainly did the same. There are reports about bugs in the US Moscow embassy in the 1960s and famously the US had to tear down their new Soviet-constructed embassy in the 1980s because it was infested with listening devices.
When we returned to our apartment from any outings, my dad was always careful to be loud to give anyone in our apartment a chance to get out. I suppose the guard downstairs would give them a heads up too.
More than once, we noticed that things had been moved during our absence. We never said anything about it in the apartment, mindful of the listening devices. My dad loudly said, “hi Mike!” [microphone] every time we returned to the apartment.
The apartment was steam heated. I remember the blistering hot radiators by the windows. I’m 99% sure there was no air conditioning so the windows would be open all the time in the summer.
There was a tiny balcony, but my parents forbade us from going on it, as they weren’t sure how solid it was, given the shoddy construction practices at the time. I still have a mild fear of going on balconies.
I played in the tiny park/playground behind the apartment building on occasion. I especially liked it after a rainfall, as I would go make dams and rivers to guide the rainwater around. My wife could tell you that I still like playing with water, several decades later.
Kutuzovsky Avenue was/is quite wide, with 4 lanes of traffic in each direction. It was busy and you didn’t really want to cross it. Fortunately there was a tunnel under the road very close to our building so you could cross safely. Unfortunately, the tunnel usually had people in it who would ask us for money, gum, or jeans. Russians really wanted blue jeans.
There was a toy store across the street that I liked to visit. It didn’t have a huge selection – definitely not like Toys R Us – but it had a few things I liked. I bought a few of my Soviet military toys there. I remember there was often an ice cream stand on the other side of the street and I really liked that. Most things Soviet were poor quality, but the ice cream was delicious.
There was a bridge over the Moskva River about 850m northeast of our apartment. We would sometimes walk there to watch fireworks. It felt like there were fireworks every week celebrating some different Soviet accomplishment. I didn’t know why they were firing them off, but they were pretty.
The Hotel Ukraine was next to that bridge. This impressive 1,026 room hotel was opened in 1957 and was one of several iconic Soviet hotels in Moscow. Today it is the Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow, and you can stay there for around 300 Euros per night.
I really don’t remember doing much exploring or walking around near our apartment. We were discouraged from mingling with Russians and there was really not much to buy. I remember biking around a bit but I never went more than a block or two, and didn’t cross the street by myself.
More USSR Content
Here are a few more articles I wrote about our time in the Soviet Union: