Old Photos: One Fine Day In The USSR

One day browsing through the Google Life Photo Archives I discovered a treasure trove of some old photos taken in the USSR sometime before 1956, when Stalin’s portraits were still hanging on many walls. These photos are pretty interesting, as they captured many small details of the Soviet life after the World War II, but even more interesting is the seemingly unlimited access granted to the photographer. Usually foreigners were strictly supervised and allowed access only to pre-approved showpieces of the Soviet achievement. Even in the 1980’s many foreigners were still guided to my school, one of the best in town, where kids met them all dressed up for the occasion and tried to strike a proper English conversation.
I thought I’d try something different this time: I tagged the photos with my own comments. This is the first experimental batch and then we’ll see how it goes. Let me know if you are interested in seeing more of these with or without comments, since it takes some time and I’d could easily waste it somewhere else.

On this photo you will notice a wood-burning stove next to the gas stove that doesn’t seem to work and has another burner standing on top. There are some photos showing gas stoves being loaded and moved to it’s probably a time when the whole apartment building was being converted to natural gas.

“Ushanka Hat” is explained here and may even get aired out at some Halloween Party; here you will find more information about the “Kirza Army Boots”.


Even in my day you still could buy bulk milk and that’s the purpose of the milk vessel below. We owned several and sometimes used it for kvass, other people took them to the beer taps.

Wood burning water heater below is very familiar to me. We had one and some bath days started with me and my Dad looking for the firewood in the middle of the city. Then my Dad had it converted to the diesel fuel and we had to call the fire department to put it out when we tried it for the first time. This method could only be used on the lucky days when we had running water. On the unlucky days the tank served as a nice storage for water to flush the toilet.

Possibly to be continued…

  • Last month my gas usage was $5.34 but the bill was $39.00…. I’m thinking that wood burning water heater looks kinda nice. I’d have plenty of wood handy with the neighbor’s siding.

  • You have to fire it up EVERY time you need hot water. It’s not constantly burning, at least I don’t think so.

  • Oh, by all means, whenever you have some extra time… This is excellent!

  • midtown miscreant

    the can on the wall, with Sool? printed on it, right above the chimney access. Matches maybe?
    The water heater sounds like a major, but much needed pain in the ass.

  • That “sool” thing puzzled me too, I posted elsewhere asking about it.

  • May

    Really interesting! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • I travel for JOOLS

    Did they use mayo like we use ketchup?

  • We didn’t have ketchup, even when I was growing up it was hard to find. Mayo was also not always available but we used a lot and I still like it.

  • Joe

    I think the commentary is worth your time. Thanks for the effort!

  • Rick in PV

    Good stuff. More, please.

  • tacit

    I love the comments you’ve provided. Quite amusing.

    The water heater takes the cake… it is unbelievable the thing ran on wood, instead of charcoal (which is an industrial by-product), or coal (which has fantastic energy density). Contrast to “Town Gas” which was available in US cities (and cities in western Europe) for lighting — and to a limited extent heat as well — at the turn of the century.

    I grew up in a community where people still remember the taste of food cooked in wood-fired cooking stoves. They consistently claim cakes and certain other baked foods taste superior prepared in one. Maybe they’re right… or maybe it’s the lard they used back then.

  • My Grandma had coal-burning stove. It burns too hot for water heater.
    MM-“sool” turned out to be salt in Estonian language and apparently screwing a salt can to the wall was pretty common in these areas.