Barracks: Part 1

I wouldn’t exaggerate if I say that barracks aren’t pretty.  For me, as probably for any Russian of my generation, “barracks” are not associated with the army, as they are in English, or with the labor camps but designate a type of public housing.  Despite my recollection of various camps barracks in the art of such Gulag survivors as Yury Dombrovsky or Varlam Shalamov, in a word association game, when asked about barracks, I would think about public housing first.

As public housing one or two-story barracks in Russia were incepted on the rise of the industrial revolution and were being built well into the first half of the 20th century.  Wherever affordable and, what’s most important, fast housing was needed barracks were used.  It is amazing how much comes to mind when I think about barracks despite my lack of special interest in the subject.  I know about the efficiency of barracks for soldiers in the WWI and workers at various grandiose construction sites during the years of Soviet industrialization.  I must have read many stories about the Soviet life and watched films in which barracks were a background against which protagonists’ stories developed.  But most importantly, I saw whole settlements around factories and mines comprised solely of barracks.  I realize that in my life I must have seen many of them since I can describe their various shapes and colors, construction materials used and atmosphere that comes to mind when the word itself, “barrack”, is uttered.

 Here is a row of wooden barracks.


pink wooden barak boldina
And barracks made of wooden frame with some cement/gravel mixture in the walls.
two pink houses boldina

For somebody reading my posts it may probably appear that I find these various old houses, dilapidated storage huts and other such things on purpose.  But in fact – and this is what I find interesting – they still exist in central areas of the city and one passes them every day.  Compared to some other smaller towns, barracks in Tula are definitely not a prevalent trait of the landscape, neither are they terribly decrepit.  They do exist, or rather, coexist with new luxury town houses and high-rises and I see them as remaining symbols of an epoch that soon will be gone forever.


orange barak and big house 2

It is amazing how people don’t really notice these barracks.  I asked several of my acquaintances here whether they can tell me when some of these houses were built.  The reaction I got surprised me, as some people couldn’t even recall the houses I mentioned.  “It’s difficult to concentrate on anything else but the road while driving”, one friend explained to me.  And he lived in the area since his Soviet childhood and used to pass many of these barracks even when he did not have a car.

I don’t know what happens.  I guess your eye gets used to details that you find unimportant or uninteresting.  Or, probably, you just don’t notice the familiar anymore.  Or, rather, it is a habit of protecting yourself from ugliness by not noticing it, as another friend suggested when I brought it up.

But in fact barracks are not that ugly either.  They may seem ugly to us now, but when some of them were built they were considered beautiful and an improvement of one’s housing conditions.  It was some time in the beginning of the 1950s when the barracks seen on the following picture were built.  “They had separate entrances and big windows, small terraces, flowers in front,” a grandmother, who used to be a girl back then recalled in our recent conversation.  “We, the children, used to go there and look at such good, as we thought at the time, houses.”


two yellow houses boldina
If barracks had separate entrances they certainly did not have running water or toilets inside.  Each room, on each side of a long hall would usually have a separate wood or coal stove, the main source of the warmth for the residents.  Probably some barracks built later, not in the 1930s but in 1950s had improvements, but by the look of the water pump outside – still working and used, as seen in the following picture – there still is not any running water inside.

barak front

Janus, God of Time

Janus, in Roman mythology is the god of transitions, beginnings, endings and time.  His two faces look to the future and to the past.

I recalled Janus recently when passing a building in Tula’s center.  A regular residential stalinka, e. g. typical of Stalinist architecture and probably built in late 40s or early 50s, this house is no different than a dozen of other such buildings that adorn this quiet street.  The building’s ground floor houses an office of a law firm and a recently opened cosmetics shop.


I have to add that remodeling first (ground) floor apartments of residential buildings into offices and shops became one of features of architectural design in Russia in the last decade or so.  So this building is no different.  It faces now a row of newly developed townhouses made of brick (or imitation brick) …

cottages cropped

and plastic siding.

town houses white pervomaiskaia

The back yard, though nice and quiet, has a different feeling altogether.  It overlooks an old but still stout town house, a more frail-looking five-story khrushchevka (an apartment building typical of Khrushchev’s era city planning) …

inner yard house and khrushch

… along with a usual set of dilapidated wooden storage huts (sarai) …

back yard sarai

… and metal boxes of private garages.


Each of these constructions represents an epoch in itself.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the old white house survives from the beginning of 20th century when the street had a different name and was not in the center of the city as it is now but on the outskirts…

I can imagine how happy people were to get new apartments in that khrushchevka…  At that time, in the 60s or probably 70s this was already a great city area – near the park, in the center.  In fact, a family friend, herself in her sixties now, still lives there with her mother, a general’s widow, whose husband was given one of the apartments here when he retired…

I can still enumerate hurdles one had to go through in 1980s in order to get a permission to build or install private garages…

And those sarai, storage huts, where people kept everything from boxes of New Year tree ornaments and empty jars in the summer to potatoes – in basements – and rows of self-made preserves in the winter!  Sometimes, at least in provincial towns, people kept pigs or rabbits there, too.  But this was the time of deficit.

If sarai and garages are noticeable right away, then a small sign on the back wall of this apartment house is not.

ubezhishche dom

The sign is rusty and covered by different paper flyers advertising moving companies or plastic ceilings.  But one can still read “Shelter No. 3” on it.

ubezhishche table

Another era.  That of the pre-WWII or the beginning of cold war when bomb shelters were built in basements of newly built residential buildings.  Buildings typical of Stalinist architecture were constructed from 1930s until the end of 1950s.  Looking at this house now I wonder when exactly it was built.  My main question is, of course, whether this inner yard with its fancy SUVs parked here now, saw black NKVD’s, secret police’s cars, rolling in the night and quietly stopping to pick up some or other resident of this prestigious house and unleash yet another personal tragedy?

History often hides behind modern facades.  Universally true this fact is even more obvious in Russia.  Walking in Tula I am constantly aware of these overlapping layers of time, of beginnings and endings, and of transitions.  Looking into the future I hope that bomb shelters and storage huts will remain in “inner yards” of our collective memory but in our present we'll be accompanied by more peaceful, though mundane, cosmetic shops and town houses instead.

Wooden Houses: Fall

I already wrote that I like Tula’s old streets for their mellow beauty, half-erased by time, but still present.  Walking here you get a feeling of harmony, which stems from the area’s architectural uniformity.


Balance of history and architecture is clearly perceivable in this area despite the fact that many of these old houses are dilapidated.


In the spring old gardens and orchards in bloom offset marks left on these streets by merciless years.  On the contrary, signs of time become more obvious against old snow in late winter or dust in the middle of summer.  But Fall, with its greys and browns, suits the weathered wood and stone of these houses better, I think.  In the Fall these streets blend with the dark sky, leafless trees and the rain.  Imperfections dissolve and what remains is a watercolor painted with just a few but deep earthy colors.  


Sometimes, though, modernity clashes here with history.  Like the orange and the green of a hardware shop on the following picture.


Or graffiti on the wall with a church in the background.


Or even an old tractor, probably a survivor left from the Soviet times, charmingly draped in a similarly old and similarly representative of those times rug.


You stumble on these inconsistencies with the area's general mood.  But then, of course, you can always zoom in.


Tula’s Central Maternity Hospital: Messages of Happiness and Joy

The area near Tula’s Kremlin, in the very center of the city, changed dramatically over the years.  However, here you can still find structures dating from the 19th century.  One of such buildings years ago belonged to a merchant, Ivan Lomov.  Before the Revolution of 1917 the house, at some point Lomov’s family estate, was given by Lomov’s daughter to a charity and turned into an orphanage.  At that time the house had only two stories.  The house got its third story in 1930.  Now Tula’s Central Maternity Hospital, officially called Tula’s Maternity Hospital No. 1 is located here.


A sign describing the house and giving the reference to Tulagid (Tula Guide), a mobile cultural navigator, is on the wall near the central entrance:

roddom table

We can see that thematically relevant bas-reliefs grace the hospital’s beautiful classical facade. (Picture from

roddom fronton

The hospital itself has a rich history.  It opened in 1926 and since then its walls witnessed many miraculous and paramount moments, I’m sure.  Walking by the hospital in this strictly pedestrian part of an old street you always see banners that happy fathers hang on fences opposite the hospital’s windows and messages that they write on the asphalt below.

These particular banners read: "Lilechik, thank you for the daughter! I love you very much!" and "Aniuta, thank you for the son!!!"

roddom zabor

I think that fathers and relatives use the canvas of the street because they’re not allowed to bring any such banner into the hospital itself.  I assume that visiting hours may be limited, too.

I have in my mind an image from my Soviet childhood when fathers or relatives were not allowed into maternity wards or hospitals at all and would meet their families only at time of discharge.  They would stand outside and shout to their wives (oh, the time without cell phones!) who would then try to show babies through closed windows.  They would write messages on small pieces of paper torn from school notebooks and try to give it to hospital personnel to pass to their wives.  At that time the maternity hospital was like a fortress and no matter how the birth went you had to spend there at least a week.

Now the rules changed, although they vary between hospitals and even between hospital’s divisions.  Now you can choose a maternity hospital, if you want, you can have your partner present at birth, you can have your baby staying with you or not  etc.

The times changed but a happy father and messages to new mothers remain.  Some of the messages that you see when passing Central Maternity Hospital make you smile, some are more serious, some are hand-made and others are products of a print shop but they all transfer a sense of celebration and extreme joy that is usually associated with any maternity ward.  I always smile when I see these.  I try to imagine these people and their babies.  And every time I feel privy to some miracle, unexpected, and because of that even more precious.    

Assumption or Dormition Cathedral in Tula’s Kremlin (Uspenskii Sobor)

Restoration works are underway in Tula’s Kremlin.  Scaffoldings have been removed from the Assumption or Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskii sobor).  The cathedral, one of the jewels of the Kremlin, has been erected between 1762 and 1766.  Its domes got a much-needed new coating of gold and the central dome has been rebuilt completely.

Uspenskii kreml 1

More amazing: for years the cathedral showed bare bricks of its walls. Here is a picture from


Now it has been painted light blue-grey.

Uspenskii 1

From a Kampel’s photograph dating from the beginning of 20th century that I found on it is somewhat difficult to see the cathedral’s (seen here on the right) color.

old cathedral

But historians and restores alike assure that light blue-grey, which to my eye looks really celestial, is the cathedral’s original color.  Get dark autumnal sky for the background – and you feel like the cathedral is floating, the baroque elements on its walls are noticeable for the first time.

Uspenskii baroque

If the cathedral survived the years of neglect than its bell tower, built in the late 18th century, was destroyed by fire in 1936.  Originally, the tower had 22 bells, including 8 clock bells.  The bell tower is now being restored.

Uspenskii and tower

The bells for the tower have been cast in Tutaevo, a town in Yaroslavl region, traditionally known for its bell-casting factory and brought to Tula recently.  The biggest bell weighs 12,5 tones and it has already been installed.  Others are awaiting the completion of the tower’s next level.


From the Forest in the City to the Real Park

Tula’s Central park is undergoing improvements.  The Governor of Tula Region said in an interview recently that the park will be turned into a real park from an overgrown forest it is now. ( Interestingly, on its website the park prides itself on being the forest in the city.  It has been founded in 1893 by Dr. Belousov and today covers more than 143 hectares of land, of which 97 hectares are woods, three ponds take 11 hectares with the rest 35 hectares are zoned for recreation.  In any case, landscaping, repairs of fountain, yet again the sidewalks as well as other improvements have been going since summer.

Sites in the park that have been repaired or somehow improved are:

The central fountain.  Last Spring it hardly ever worked and even non-specialists could tell that its deteriorated features needed renovations.  By the end of Summer the fountain got a new pool as well as its internal systems have been improved dramatically so now the fountain has various, better lighting and jets modes.
Here are some pictures of the new fountain from the Park’s site. (


Yet again the sidewalks, now in the park, are undergoing construction.  New sidewalks are being built in places where there used to be just walking paths.

doroga rask 1 new

dorogi rask 2 new

sidewalks park new

Also, it seems that bicycle lanes will also be created.

bycycle path new

A new small stadium has been built.  It looks good and I’m sure it is enjoyed by many people.  The park’s website states that in order to gain access to this ground you have to first submit a request but people playing there told me that it was open for the general public’s use without any such formalities.

stadium new

Here is the old place for playing volleyball.  You can see the difference.

old stad new

A newly developed site is called “Ground for Workout”.

workout new
It is a gift of Tula’s Governor Vladimir Gruzdev.  The description on the photo above gives a rather free translation of the word “workout” (“workout is exercising (is a workout) outdoors with the use of one’s own body weight”) but the place itself is an excellent present for those who like open-air exercise.  

Just recently I went to the park for a walk and was really surprised to see a brand new dog run complete with bars for dogs to exercise and even benches for people to sit on.  For those people unfamiliar with dog situation in Russia in general and in Tula in particular I have to say that this is the only dog run I have ever seen in Tula.  Yes, I remember seeing them in some of the old Soviet movies.  Yes, I saw some exercising pens for service (mostly police) dogs in Tula.  But a civilized, fenced dog run in the park I have not seen before.

dog run

Here is the sign with the rules.

dog run tablichka new
In order to appreciate this news you have to know that in Tula there are hundreds of stray dogs – and cats – that populate the streets and remain a big problem for the administration as well as animal protection groups alike.  According to a recent estimate by Tula State Pedagogical University’s Biotechnology department that I’ve read in Sloboda, a Tula’s newspaper, there are more than 30 thousand stray animals in Tula.  You read about biting and mauling often enough you start picking your child up automatically when you see strays approaching you in the street or pull him closer when you see a big dog walking with its owner.

In Russia there also exists a general disrespect of dog owners to the rest of the public’s sanitary and – often – safety concerns.  Living in Tula I can easily enumerate those few times when I saw somebody to clean after their dog.  Dog waste is a big concern in small parks and even on children’s playgrounds.   A fact that surprised me recently – in the US, according to a survey by the Center for Watershed Protection done in 1999 41% of dog owners rarely or never pick up after their dog either! Leaving in New York I never thought that the problem was actually that bad!

I know that violence, dog cruelty or dog waste problems exist everywhere in the world.  But here the culture of curbing your dog, the culture of animal shelters and animal adoption are still rather nascent.  This is the reason that a dog run in the park, by the very concept of it, felt so strange to me.    

Dog owners that I talk to often complain that it is impossible to walk your dog anywhere.  So they need to go somewhere and cannot do anything if the only green area near their house is a playground.  In the park, actually just across the new dog run, there hangs a “No Dog Walking” sign.

vygul sobak new

Exercising your dog is not the same as cleaning after it.  But I like the idea of having a dog run in the park, although it still does not prevent any of us from encountering dog waste.  However it may be just the beginning.  So hopefully one day there will be more dog shelters in Tula, there will be easily accessible plastic bags in parks like those you can get in Carl Schurz park in New York City, and there will be more mutual respect for all of us, people and dogs. 

Welcoming the Olympic Flame

October 14th was the day for the Tula’s region to welcome the Olympic torch relay.  The Olympic flame traveled to Yasnaya Poliana and Novomoskovsk first, finally coming to Tula.  The relay’s route in Tula itself has been divided into three separated stages following each other in three city’s districts, a wise move by the organizers, actually.  People who went to see the relay for the 1980s Olympics remembered huge crowds gathering around Tula’s central street, the Prospekt Lenina, the only route for the relay back then.  This time the route for the Olympic flame was winding through multiple streets in each of the three areas thus giving those who wanted to see it an opportunity to do so without being smashed in the process.

The day of the relay was made into an “unofficial holiday”, giving employers the right to decide for themselves whether to work or not.  So like with any other holiday state and municipal organizations like schools have been closed for the day, with stores remaining open.

Private transport has been suspended along the relay’s route (with certain intersecting streets open for the convenience of the drivers), public transportation running on the regular schedule with, what looked like, more buses, trolleybuses and cabs.  The morning, which happened to be very sunny and warm, was strangely, unusually quite.  People walked and used bicycles; it all felt like a state holiday from my childhood.

morning 3

morning 2

Banners advertising the Olympic Relay could be seen everywhere.

banner 2

banner 1

banner 3

The streets were cleaned every hour, at least.


Alcohol sales have been halted for the whole day. It was interesting to see notices posted on doors of two different supermarkets. The notices say that the order came from the region’s administration.

note 1

note 2
The forcible nature of this preventive measure makes me both unhappy and somewhat ashamed: do we have to ban alcohol in order to keep the people from trouble?  But with many grocery stores along the torch’s route and people congregating on the city’s central plaza for the concert and fireworks later in the evening I can see the logic behind the administration’s decision.  I mean, alcohol is banned from the Times Square New Year’s celebration, too.

The timing of the Relay has been posted in newspapers and on the web, the updates from the Relay's progress through the city could be seen on TV and, off course, on twitter.  So our wait for the Olympic Flame was a pleasant one.

The Relay is headed by traffic police cars.
relay 1

 Cars with official designs for the Sochi Olympics.


Buses of Ingosstrakh Insurance Company and…

ingosstrakh bus

 … Coca Cola , both official partners of Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

coca cola bus

Finally, the bus carrying the Relay's participants.


Here comes a torchbearer.  The only thing that I would want to add to this otherwise very well organized event is the announcement of torchbearers names and merits.  One could read about them in papers but it would be nice for both, the torchbearer and the public, I think, to hear it during the relay itself.


torch 1

torch 2

Here is the change of torchbearers.

light change

Well, one could say that it was a very good day — no traffic, no work, cleaned streets, no alcohol!  But seriously speaking, I liked this day not only for the calmness of streets (which, I am sure would feel strange if lasted longer) or the nice weather.  I was happy to see that it was well organized and that if you wanted to see the relay you could easily do so and be proud for your country and for your city.