Talking Buildings #2: Memories from the Radio Factory in Grozny

The project ‘Talking Buildings from the Soviet Chechen Republic’ follows an almost vanished path through the remnants of Chechnya’s collective industries. Uncovering the memories and experiences of seven Chechen women, now aged 50 to 67, the project’s protagonists reflect on their work in the various socialist farms, factories, and cultural institutions during the USSR. Told through the prism of the buildings’ physical remains, the narrations delve into individual stories of how Chechen women actively participated in Soviet society while at the same time respecting the traditional and Islamic way of life in their families. The project is based on biographical interviews with time witnesses and this week, we will hear more about Grozny’s Radio Factory.


The Radio Factory

“In the year 1975, I entered the Vocational Technical School Number 10. The school was integrated into the design engineering faculty and located in the Zavodskoy district, Grozny. One year later, I started an internship in Grozny’s Radio Engineering Plant. The plant was built in 1959 and became one of the best instrument-making enterprises in the Soviet Union. Its products were so good that they were not only used in the Soviet Union, but also in a dozen foreign countries. My school sent me there for the purpose of pre-diploma practice in a special construction office.

The radio factory employed around 3000 employees and I became one of them after my graduation in autumn 1977. I joined the Radio Factory’s workforce in the role of a draftswoman and I worked there until I resigned due to family reasons in 1979. Our construction office developed the portable transistor radio ‘Giala-407’ and the monophonic electrophone ‘Nocturne-211’. The exterior of the ‘Giala-407’ had been designed by an artist. Yet, somebody needed to make the engineering drawings for these products which I did in the designated copy room. Our head of the department was very intelligent, educated, and friendly. We learned many things from her and I am very grateful for her support. I received great advice from her throughout my time at the factory.

Years at the Radio Factory

During the induction session on our first day of work, we received drawing boards and some other tools. And then we began to draw. The work was quiet. All the employees were friendly and came from various places in the USSR. There were many Russians, Jews, and Ingush.

Colleagues in the Radio Factory

One of my former classmates also worked alongside me and some other people I knew worked in the copy department. We frequently traveled with our team and organized bus trips to the mountains where we barbecued. And we went to the parades holding balloons, banners, and posters. We did not need to be summoned to join such events, we were enthusiastic. During this time, I also worked in the Radio Factory’s Civil Defense [1] unit where I learned how to raise the alarm in case of war and to provide first aid.

Colleagues in the Radio Factory

The most memorable place in the building was my office, a room covered in flowers. We also had a green courtyard inside the factory where we liked to talk and to spend our free time. There was also a canteen in the back of the courtyard, but we rarely went there because we wanted to save time. We always had our own lunches with us and everyone brought a little bit of food: a salad, bread, eggs. We generally had a very good working environment and so it was only natural that we continued to keep in touch with each other after I left my job. My last day at the Radio Factory was very sad for me. I had a hard time leaving the job mainly because of my team. During the time I worked in the factory, I was awarded with a title from the USSR’s Ministry of the Defense Industry three times and I received a prize as the ‘Best in her Profession’. The Radio Factory continued its work until the last day. And I heard that it even continued its production during the war until 1999. Then the war took its share and the buildings were destroyed.

From pen friends to glass beads

During my school and university years, I was a member of all the existing youth organizations. I was an ‘Octobrian’, a ‘Pioneer’, and a ‘Komsomol’ [2] and at our school we also had a group called ‘Zarnitsa’ [3].

I was an ‘Octobrian’, a ‘Pioneer’, and a ‘Komsomol’

We went to the mountains together. In urban schools, we also learned foreign languages. My second foreign language was French, and we also learned German. I cannot say that we were able to speak German fluently but we could read it. In grades 6 and 7, we exchanged letters with German schoolchildren. These letters were of great interest to us, real pieces of art, I would say. The boy who became my pen friend was very talented and had a spectacular way of writing. Sometimes he also sent gifts like badges, brooches, and pens along with his letters. The best gift at that time was however always a book. Our entire family liked to read. Besides books, I also had a love of the applied arts I graduated from Art School Number 1 in Grozny. My mother liked to create beautiful embroideries and now I also work with glass beads, which I use to sew dresses for dolls, make appliqués on fabrics, as well as for patchwork and quilting.

A family of workers

Soviet Radio Production

After I left the Radio Factory in the early 80s, I started working with the Construction Department of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR as a construction manager. At that time, I was also a secretary of a Komsomol organization and I attended all the parades, which I always enjoyed. Everybody knew each other there. My mother was a housewife and my father was a driver. Sometimes he also took on some other extra jobs which required him to work at night. I will never forget when I went alone to the field, where he worked, to bring him some food. We used to have a large farm like everyone at that time. Back then this was normal. My parents did not pray during the Soviet time; neither did I. But we believed in God and my uncle prayed and so did my aunt. I also had three siblings, two brothers and a sister. Our parents really wanted us to get a higher education but they did not want to leave the republic. At that time, it was possible to work in any job or to enter any higher or secondary educational institution. It was very easy for young people to find a job. We were given the opportunity to learn, grow and gain valuable experience.

Workers in Soviet Grozny

When I worked in the Construction Department, we had a copy machine ‘REM’ (Rotary Electrographic Machine). This was the only equipment of this kind produced in the Soviet Union. Next to the construction department was a dorm where the staff lived. Back then they sent employees from the entire Soviet Union to complete the building work for the new houses on Pervomayskaya Street. We also worked there and were tasked with putting up wallpaper, not only on Pervomayskaya Street but also in the Circus of Grozny (destroyed during the war), which was considered to be one of the largest in the North Caucasus. Our role was to clean, paint and take care of the buildings. And we did our job with so much enthusiasm that we never missed a deadline. One thing we had was stability. Yes, the salaries were small but we were able to buy everything we needed.

The Komsomol life in Grozny

My youth was generally a very interesting time and closely intertwined with the Komsomol life. I will never forget how we went to the last performance of ‘Bozh-Ali’ [4] at the Chechen State Theater in Grozny. The lead actor Alvi Deniev died shortly after in an accident on the road to Samashki on the 25th of May 1985. Alvi Deniev used to play the speculator Sutarbi, our favorite role of the entire piece. Sutarbi was the funniest character who made all 20 of us laugh for the entire night.

Banner of ‘Grozny’s Radio Factory’

My favorite place in Grozny was the cafe ‘Metropolitan’ because it served the most delicious cakes. The high tables, the coffee flavors, the smell of vanilla. It all came together. And all these experiences united us and it was fun. On my 30th birthday, I was pregnant with my second boy and I decided to go to the “Metropolitan” to buy myself a cake. The ‘Kievsky’ cake was very popular and so I stood in the queue for a long time. But right after that I immediately went to the hospital. So, on my birthday, I got my main gift: my baby.

One of my friends worked in the Chekhov Republican Universal Scientific Library known as ‘Chekhovka’. Unfortunately, she  has already died but back then I often went to see her. We drank tea in her office where she had a portrait of our favorite Chechen poetess Raisa Akhmatova. Raisa was a very famous writer and I had the pleasure to see her once.

Her presence filled an incredibly huge reading room in the library and it was totally quiet, despite all the people in the hall.

The building had marble stairs, many indoor flowers, a big wardrobe and many books in the basement. I really read a lot and I had many favorite books. But Vitaly Zakrutkin’s book “The Mother of Man” left an extraordinary strong impression on me. The book describes the story of a woman in the time of the Great Patriotic War, who, being pregnant, miraculously survived in a cornfield. She was not alone there, but with a group of refugees who were hiding in a field until the Soviet troops arrived. And this was how she and the other people survived. The book itself was very small but I could barely hold back my tears while reading it.

We also went to concerts of the famous Soviet singers Alla Pugacheva, Michail Boyarsky, Tamara Dadasheva and Maryam Tashayeva in Grozny. Yet, one of my favorite songs was ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. l also still have records of Soviet pop songs in my house, it was very difficult to get them back then just like the Polish perfume ‘Maybe’ (BYĆ MOŻE) of which I was a fan. This is the smell of the Soviet period. They imported the perfume from abroad; I still remember how they were shining in the sun. And you know, in my childhood my nickname was Angela Davis because of my hairstyle. She was a well-known politician at this time and the newspapers wrote a lot about her. We really liked her.

Muted Radios

I do not know why, but somehow I kind of kept drawing lines from the building. Can you imagine? During the war, these lines disappeared somewhere. When I saw the destroyed building of the Radio Factory for the first time, the sight was unbearably painful for. After all, many very good memories were now buried there. My first work experiences and all of this was destroyed, I felt such an inexplicable cold inside. The gloomy passage remained and upstairs some of the working rooms; only the first floor of the electroplating department remained. It was hard to see all of this. The archive was in a terrible condition, everything was covered under the rubble.”

 

To safeguard the anonymity of the protagonists, names of locations and individuals have been changed.

[1] The workers of the Civil Defense department at the Radio Factory were tasked to provide support to citizens of Grozny in case of a military invasion or a natural disaster.
[2] Komsomol is the Russian abbreviation for “All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth” and an organization for young people aged 14 to 28. It was primarily a political organ for spreading Communist teachings and preparing future members of the Communist Party. Closely associated with this organization were the Pioneers (All-Union Lenin Pioneer Organization, established in 1922), for children aged 9 to 14, and the Little Octobrists, for children less than 9 years old.
[3] ‘Zarnitsa’ translated literally means ‘heat lightning’. Zarnitsa was a massive children’s war game imitating military operations. It was organized by the Young Pioneers organization and intended for schoolchildren of the classes 4 -7, (10-13 years). Older schoolchildren played a similar game with the name Orlyonok.
[4]‘Bozh-Ali’ is a male Chechen name.

The project was developed and realized by Umarova Asia (Journalist, Illustrator, and Writer), Sani Manchak (Freelance Journalist and Translator), Tamara Taysumova (Photographer), and Johanna Pruessing (Editor at RETROGRAD). The project was supported by the Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Moscow and developed by Umarova Asia during the “Europe Lab 2017” organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

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