February 10, 2024

Nostalgia Takes a Hit

Nostalgia Takes a Hit

“I’m not sheltering in a basement or standing in line for bread – in other words, I’m not in a warzone and can’t think about the war 24 hours a day,” said photographer Anastasia Tsayder
(@anastasia_tsayder on Instagram), who lives in Moscow. “When do I remember the war? When I look out the window and see a panelka. That is probably the most powerful image of war that we encounter every day.”

Images of bombed-out apartment buildings not only signal catastrophe but serve as evidence that Russia is not just attacking military targets, as it claims, but is intentionally destroying the homes of ordinary Ukrainians. And since most of Ukraine’s housing stock was constructed in the post-Stalin era, these images typically show the iconic prefab concrete-slab panelki that sprung up across the Soviet Union in that period. Footage from Ukraine showing panelki reduced to rubble hits home, since many Russians are also still housed in the very same sort of buildings, or at least living among them.

In the 1950s, prefab concrete panels became a tool enabling the rapid construction of private apartments for a population that had largely been living in communal apartments or dormitory-like barracks. Nikita Khrushchev (Communist Party First Secretary from 1953 to 1964) implemented new architectural standards that enabled a program of nationwide, accelerated construction of small, low-ceilinged apartments with simple floorplans. Costs were kept down: toilets, sinks, and bathtubs were all in a single room (unlike the split bathrooms found in most communal apartments, spacious prerevolutionary apartments into which many families were crammed after the revolution); there were no elevators; and purely decorative elements or deviations from the standard floorplan were forbidden as “architectural excess.”

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