The wrecking ball swings at Moscow – a photo essay

A mass demolition of Russias iconic Khrushchevka apartments will leave 2 million people with no choice about their next home. So why did so many approve it?

Moscow is enduring one of its periodic urban convulsions: plumes of dust fill the air, cranes proliferate across the skyline and the street are soundtracked by pneumatic drills. In the city centre, new parks, infrastructure and freshly decorated historical monuments are the most visible signs of renewal. But there is another, less visible reconstruction programme going on- and one that is startling in its scale.

In June this year, the Moscow Duma unanimously approved the demolition of more than 4,000 apartment blocks in various sites across the sprawling city, home to virtually 2 million people. Most of this housing is privately owned, the consequence of the privatisation of state housing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been a highly controversial decision, bringing thousands of Muscovites into the streets in protest.

The prototype


Yulia Fedosova and her son, Maxim, live in a typical five-storey concrete-panel apartment block. Known as a Khrushchevka, after the Soviet leader who orchestrated the industrialisation of house-building, Nikita Khrushchev, it first appeared in 1956 in an experimental housing estate in south-west Moscow that was quickly heralded as the solution to the postwar housing crisis. Factories were built, employees retrained, and by the mid-6 0s this modest, prefabricated style of apartment block had jumped up like clusters of mushrooms everywhere from Minsk to Vladivostok.

The Fedosovas’ estate is well-connected to the city centre. Essential services- kindergarten, schools, a health centre, transport links- are easily accessible on foot, and their flat seems down on to apple trees, flowers and a children’s play park. It is tranquil, the air is fresh and the development is schemed at a human scale. Both Fedosova and her father grew up there; several generations of her family live in nearby flats.

Under the June law, if two-thirds of residents in a block election yes to the so-called ” renovation programme”, the block is likely to be demolished. Fedosova voted no: for her, the demolitions won’t just destroy buildings, but also a sense of history, home and belonging.

Empty Empty 1960 s Khrushchevka flats in the Butirsky district
Vera Voronina inside the condemned home that she has just freshly redecorated
Vassily, a retired professor of immunology, argues that people are being deceived
Tatyana Buyanova’s two-storey cottage, which has been scheduled for demolition
Nikolai Kanchov, who stood in the recent municipal elections for the opposition party Yabloko, and resident Anastasia, inside one of the condemned flats in the Metrogorodsky district

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