PROJECT : ‘Talking Buildings from the Soviet Chechen Republic’

The project’s narration follows an almost disappearing path through the remains of Chechnya's collective industries uncovering the memories and experiences of seven Chechen women, now aged from 50 to 67, who used to work in the various socialist farms, factories and cultural institutions during the USSR. Told through the prism of the buildings’ physical remains, the narrations delves deep into individual stories of how Chechen women actively participated in Soviet society while respecting the traditional and Islamic way of life in their families at the same time. The project is based on biographical interviews with time witnesses. What seems unrelated on the first sight eventually falls into place and shares a bigger picture with the reader. Personal and honest stories.


> To safeguard the anonymity of the protagonists, names of locations and individuals have been changed <<>> The project has been supported by the Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Moscow and was developed during the “Europe Lab 2017” organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum <<


"I have worked in this building since my graduation from the Grozny pedagogical school in 1978. Back then I was 18 years old. I have been a teacher in the primary school for only one year when they offered me to become a senior Pioneer leader. I accepted the role and committed to the responsibility for around 5 years. During my time at the school I supervised 8 classes and I ended up worked there for about 39 years overall. I basically spent all my adult life in this institution. But even before I joined the school in a professional capacity I worked with young people. During my first internship, the pedagogical school sent me for training purposes to my native rural school where I worked under the supervision of the teachers. I well remember this class, because my younger brother was part of it and he persistently refused to obey me. I even remember the lessons I taught. The school was managed by an international team. The director of our school took part in the Great Patriotic War and we did hear many of her stories from the military and her experience in the war. 80 percent of the students in the school were Russians. At that time Russians were in the majority almost everywhere. There was also a married Armenian couple and some Ukrainians, who were incredibly friendly.

A teacher at the pedagogical school

We organized many events and we actively participated not only in school activities, but also in the life of the village. During the harvest or other agricultural holidays, concerts were given in the village club, a place that is abandoned now. The pedagogical team went with the pupils to the fields and we performed in the gardens where the crops were harvested. And sometimes we joined the village council. We also produced newspapers which we displayed on the wall. The school was generally the cultural center of the village.

On the first floor, next to the entrance on the right side, was a room with especial expensive interior. It was the office of the senior Pioneer leader. It felt like a mini-headquarters and I run a band of young drummers there. We stored the drums, the banner of the school, the banner of the Pioneer squad and other well-known banners in this room. And in each class there was a small corner with a flag similar to the ones in the pioneer office. The most interesting meetings of the pioneer team’s council took place in this room. This was the place, where we took decisions and approved the work plans. Well, in general, we discussed everything in this room.

Grozny Eight-Year School Number 59

At the 3rd of November 2007, upon our return from the autumn holidays, we were relocated to a new school building, which is located nearby. Unfortunately, we had to leave the old building because its condition had become critically. It had already been impossible to teach classes there. But the building still exists and the school’s staff that started working with me used to look back with sadness and longing, because we had passed all our youth and our adulthood there, basically the center of all our lives had been there.

The building was initially intended to be a hostel for workers coming for a short term assignment to the state farm nearby. This state farm was very rich back in the days and workers came from everywhere to take on cleaning jobs. After all, there were huge gardens as well as dairy and cattle farms. Generally, many workers came for the harvest and the building was built to become their accommodation. Yet, due to the fact that we had no school building in our district, forcing teachers and schoolchildren to huddle in a small two-room cottage, the collective of the state farm decided to give this hostel building to the school. When I was a little girl, I entered the first class in this building; right after my family had been deported from Kazakhstan. When the local authorities eventually gave the hostel to the school I already studied in the second grade.  But we only began to be called a school in 1967. The official name was Grozny Eight-Year School Number 59. We were called like this because our village belonged to the city and because the school was part of the state farm "Red Hammer".

Pioneers and parades

This was also the time when ideology was introduced into schools. The lessons began with a "political minute". In reality the minute was five minutes long and the pupils heard about interesting things that had happened in the world during the previous week. The five-minute sessions took place once a week. Sometimes they were complemented by political events organized in the school. A frequent topic at that time was Angela Davis and her fight for justice. Her photographs were everywhere in the newspapers and a real solidarity movement existed. At the peak of this solidarity movement, we made posters with slogans and banners saying: "Freedom to Angela Davis!" And we walked through the streets and shouted her name. The life of the school and its students was closely tied up with politics. Themes like internationalism, solidarity, and friendship of the different people were tolerated in any case.

A very interesting event was held on Constitution Day. The school was divided into 15 groups with each group representing one of the union republics such as for example Ukraine. This group would then learn and present the Ukrainian anthem as well as different Ukrainian songs, poems, dances, national costumes and dishes. The celebrations were huge and almost the entire village gathered at the school for this occasion. And the socialist youth organizations - Pioneers for junior classes and Komsomols for senior students - educated the youth in the spirit of solidarity and devotion to the ideas of communism. Being an employee of the school, I firmly believed in all of these communist ideals and I have always committed to the activities with the depth of my heart. Life in the school was much more interesting and the children were well informed about politics in the Soviet Union and abroad.

We also had a campus for students coming for the harvest of fruits and vegetables to our village. And they came not only from Chechnya or Ingushetia, but also from other parts of the Soviet Union; from Volgograd, for example. The campus was called "pioneer camp" and the students living there worked in the fields of the farm, where they gathered corn and vegetables for half a day. The rest of the afternoon, they spent resting in our camp. The camp encompassed around ten buildings and a canteen. And life in the village was very interesting because of that. Every evening, the youth gathered in the camp to dance, to watch movies or to listen to different concerts. And these experiences helped to raise young people in the spirit of diligence and responsibility for the fate of their homeland.

Now, at a more mature age I rethink some things. My parents were only semi-literate and from a simple working family. My father could only write his name and my mother completed only five classes. She was able to read and write, not only in Chechen, but also in Russian and Arabic. My parents were not only believers, they were very religious. They prayed at home and taught us to pray as well. I cannot say that they forced us to do so, but we ourselves knew that this was also necessary. But of course, at work we never prayed as it was considered to be strange, just like it would be considered as strange now. However, my parents never stopped us from learning. We were nine children in our family. I had five sisters and three brothers and all of us received higher education. This is why most of us also became leaders in our school and student live. Yet, I cannot say that our parents encouraged us, they just never stopped us. They respected our studies and professions and the only thing they were worried about was our dignity. They worried that we would not disgrace the honor of our family. As of my political life, I was a secretary of the Komsomol committee as a pupil and the secretary of the Komsomol committee when I worked at the school. I lead various student groups and I did a lot to encourage the groups under my supervision.

From Pioneers to Komsomols

At our school, children from the first to the third class were so called ‘October kids’, (the junior degree of the pioneers) and all of them had badges with portraits of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. From the third grade onwards, we accepted them as pioneers, but not all of them, only the best. I still remember one case when I was a Pioneer leader. A 4th grade pupil was not accepted because of his bad behavior. Later he died in the first military conflict of Chechnya. After he died, I went to see his parents to express my condolences. And his mother told me with tears in her eyes, that he was so worried not to be accepted as pioneer by me, that he cried a week and that he did not want to go to school. Being a pioneer was very important for the children at that time, because not being accepted into the pioneers was considered to be a great disgrace. So most of the children aspired to the pioneers and the ties were worn with pride and pleasure. We pioneer leaders regularly checked on the kids whether they were clean and whether they shirts were ironed. From the 7th grade onwards, which was around the age of 14, we joined the Komsomol and we received special Komsomol icons signifying our membership.

Stable things

When we came from Kazakhstan, my parents immediately found a job on the state farm. My father went to take care of the horses and my mother got a job in greenhouse and so they worked until retirement. I remember this time with nostalgia because I believe that things were more stable. For example, my parents were able to save 2 to 3 thousand rubles for ‘a bad day’ and this money would not lose its value for 10 to 20 years. Life was much easier and the state showed more concern for the common people. Of course, if someone did not work they were punished, because everyone had to have a job. If a young guy returned from the army, he had to get a job within 2 to 3 weeks and in most of the cases he did. If a person went to university, he or she could be a 100 percent sure to find a job right after graduation. Even the diplomas were not handed out until you had worked at least 2 to 3 years in the positions that you were sent to. There was a state commission responsible to assign young people to various work places. Education was free of charge; each student received a scholarship and accommodation for free. Parents never had to worry or think about how to help their children.

The friendship train

As a student I also lived on a campus for four years. It was very convenient as it was located in the village of Kalinino. We had a place to study just ten meters from our accommodation and a very cheap canteen in the courtyard.  The state took care of us students. In 1977, when I was studying in the third year of the pedagogical school, the KOMSOMOL of Checheno-Ingushetia awarded me with a trip to Czechoslovakia. I was the leader of the pedagogical college’s student preparatory staff of the construction team and during my two year term, we managed to significantly increase the ranking of our pedagogical school from the 17th to the 3rd place among many other schools. Thanks to this, we took the so called “Friendship trains” which went all across the Soviet Union. These were special trains for students of Komsomol party members and activists. On the “Friendship Train” we sang songs and got to know each other before we were divided into different groups upon our arrival in Czechoslovakia. Our group was put together with delegations from Georgia and the Chelyabinsk region. We visited various cities, went to museums and concerts. And there were even evenings of friendship organized together with the youth of Czechoslovakia where we performed one song in Chechen language and a dance in our national costumes. The trip ended with a grandiose evening of friendship in the “House of Radio” in Warsaw.

* Friendship Train were normal trains provided by the government that allowed for cultural exchange of students and Komsomol party while they were travelling through the USSR.

Books under the table

I read a lot, like all my brothers and sisters. My mother did not really like that we read all the time and if she caught us at the table, with a book, during a meal, she became very her angry. Imagine the picture: a round and fairly low table with 5-6 people sitting around their faces in their books. When our mother entered the room, we immediately threw our books under the table hoping that she did not notice. But our younger brother told her the truth by lifting the tablecloth and she saw where all books went: underneath our feet. We read everything. And when we had homework in the pedagogical school, we went to the "Chekhovka" (State Universal Scientific Library named after A. P. Chekhov), where we were allowed to use the reading room for about 2-3 hours. Although it was huge, there were always large queues to enter the reading room and not a single seat was empty. Not all the books could be taken home, so people needed to stay there if they wanted to read them. And so, everybody was sitting somewhere with a book. And people also read a lot in buses and trams.

Sometimes, Grozny’s authorities used to put wooden dance floors in public gardens. But I did not go there, because I was ashamed to dance in front of other people.

At that time many people were following Lenin’s ideology. Of course we idealized him, because he was presented to us in a ’bright light’ only. And we considered him to be the best and the kindest person. We really believed that he preached caring for the poor and the children. We firmly believed in all of this. As co thinkers of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, only Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were familiar to me.

Living buildings grown old

When I see the campus and the old school building now, I have a feeling of bitterness; as if they were living buildings that have grown old, like perishing organisms and no one helped them. Here they are, sick, growing old, collapsing, and I cannot help them. And when I feel nostalgic over the years that have passed, I'm thinking about all the things these walls must know, how much they must have heard, and how many stories they kept for themselves. I wonder about the stories the people who lived in this campus would have to tell.


But where are they now, what happened to them, do these people still remember our camps? If a fairy appeared and I could make a wish, I would like to go back and return to the time when these buildings were young, like me, firmly believing in our idols. "


>> In the photographs we can see the Proletarian Secondary School, which was open from 1967 until 2007. Due to the destroyed condition of the building, a new school was built nearby;

a student campus for young specialists, who were sent to the Soviet Union on annual trainings in summer to work on the state farms and fields. The students were from different parts of the Soviet Union.  This campus was called "pioneer camp" in the village.