No one lives in the pleasant wooden house at 68 Lenin St. The spacious, lace-curtained dwelling that was the boyhood home of V. I. Lenin has been preserved in reverent tribute to his memory.
A block away, at 6 Lev Tolstoy St., stands another monument to the Soviet founder. Here, in a nearly identical house, 27 families live packed together like prisoners, a mockery of the workers' paradise that Lenin promised would be the reward of his socialist state.
Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in yet another enshrined home in this city renamed in his honor, Lenin spent a decade in the comfortable house on a slope dappled with birch trees. A grand piano graces the living room. Oil paintings adorn the walls in gilded frames.
More than a century after he left for St. Petersburg with grand schemes for undoing injustice, Lenin's quest for a proletarian Utopia has died an undignified death. The house he was raised in now represents a level of luxury Soviets can only dream of. The sagging dormitory on Lev Tolstoy Street, with its stench of sewage and cabbage and smoke, is the house that Lenin's socialism built.
"It's difficult to imagine the society he had in mind, but I'm sure it is not the one that we live in," says Valery Fadeyev, a 30-year-old architect on whom the irony of Lenin's legacy is not lost.
Like millions of Soviets across the continent-sized country that Lenin made his laboratory, Fadeyev's own "home" is a matter of interpretation. He lives in one place and lays claim to another; neither comes close to meeting his needs.
Dissatisfied with the business of architecture in a nation obsessed with mass production and grandiose plans, he left his native city of Samara three years ago to take a job as a fireman in Ulyanovsk, a city 485 miles southeast of Moscow on the Volga River. After eight months in the station house, he secured a tiny room at the Lev Tolstoy dormitory. He is officially registered to live there but has since moved his wife and 4-year-old son into a one-room apartment he rents na levo --on the gray market--from a friend.
Gula and Rosim Sagudinov, crammed into the closet-sized room adjacent to Fadeyev's meager space, would dearly like to spread into the second room, but the labyrinthine Soviet bureaucracy makes such a move risky for all involved.
"Valery would lose his right to live in this city, and we would lose our place on the list for permanent housing," explains Gula, quieting 18-month-old Ramilya, whose nap has been interrupted by noise in the hall hung with washtubs and sleds.
While the Sagudinovs do their best to keep their cluttered room reasonably tidy, the squalid dormitory and its cheerless inhabitants are straight from the pages of Dickens and Dostoevsky.
There is only one kitchen with a single deep sink, its enamel chipped and its faucets rusted. Two corroded wash basins and two toilets--one for men, the other for women--furnish the second common room on the rat-holed ground floor. Residents must use public facilities three blocks away to bathe.
"We both have good professions and good salaries, but even after eight years we have nothing," says Rosim, 31, a merchant seaman based in the White Sea port of Arkhangelsk. "We don't even hope for improvement anymore. I can't even get on a waiting list for housing, because I'm considered to be taken care of by the berth I have on board ship."
Gula has been on the list for new housing with her building enterprise since taking a job there in 1987. But she has become discouraged about the prospects, as dozens of others stand ahead of her and only two apartments have come open in four years.
"As our daughter gets older, we may have to go back to farming in our native village in Tatarstan," says Gula. "At least there we could have a home, even if there was no work."
Their room in the workers' dormitory is so narrow that it can accommodate only one twin bed. Usually the baby sleeps there, while the couple spends the night on the creaky floor.
"I've also got a wife and child, yet it will be 10 or 15 years until we have our own apartment, if we're lucky," complains Pavel Kosushev, a 27-year-old policemen whose family occupies the room across from the Sagudinovs. He has wandered over to join in a conversation he couldn't help but overhear in the neighboring fishbowl.
Kosushev says the housing shortage is so daunting that even the most ambitious building campaign would take a decade to make any difference. Instead of waiting for the long-promised improvements, he believes city housing should be immediately redistributed according to need.
"It's wrong that young families have to live like cattle in places like this while old pensioners have the best apartments in the center of town," says Kosushev.
He insists that he would willingly move out to a village after his working years. "If I live that long," he adds, miming a spitting gesture that Russians use to mean "knock on wood."
Like the Sagudinovs, Kosushev and his family lack the formal propiska (documentation) that recognizes permanent residence. In a classic "Catch-22" for which the Soviet housing maze is famous, families quartered in substandard conditions are denied rights that might ease their living conditions.
"We are not eligible for a private plot of land on which we could plant our own potatoes or build a small dacha, because for that you need to have an Ulyanovsk propiska, " explains Gula. "It's a system only madmen could have invented."
One street over, in the Ulyanov abode, the memory of the Soviet creator still enjoys at least a semblance of respect.
Although the house-cum-museum is usually abandoned, three elderly women stand by to check coats and polish the parquet floors. They stalk the rare visitor to scold any touching of door jambs or straying from the slippery cloth runners.
"The teacher and friend of all the working people," a placard in the foyer says of the first Soviet leader. "Lenin's name is immortal--as immortal as his ideas and his deeds."