Talking buildings #5: The Pastry Shop

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. Our fifth protagonist takes us into the kitchen’s of Soviet factories and pastry shops.

The Pastry Shop

“In 1975, I entered the Technical Vocational School Number 6 where I became a confectioner. Our group consisted out of thirty-three young girls and I believe it was the best group, because all the girls were very clever. We studied with pleasure and we learned new things very quickly. To get to my school I normally took the tram until the stop ‘Banya’[1] and sometimes I got there by bus.

Drummers on a parade

Aside from our education, we attended various other activities. We joined a dance group, a group of girl drummers and we opened the parades in our city with pride. It was all worth it just to wear these white boots and white skirts! Other girls and boys from the vocational schools number 5, 6, 12 and 26 also joined our group and the guys played the trumpets while we were playing the drums.

It was a rare delight to see drum playing girls in such clothes at that time and many people used to wait for our appearance in the parade. And we were always warmly welcomed.

At that time short haircuts and permanent waves came into fashion. I, however, had long hair and my mother did not allow me to follow the modern hair trends. When my sister and I came home after work our grandmother would brush our braids and even measure them. In that way, she controlled if we had cut our hair off or not and she berated us if we cut some hair off. We knew that it would be worse if we went against my mother’s rules but we really wanted to keep up with the newest styles. Eventually, I went to a friend of mine who is a hairdresser and secretly got a permanent wave. She still works at the salon ‘Taganka’ near the motor depot.

Drummers in white boots and white skirts

In order to hide my secret revolt, I asked my friend: ‘Do not cut my hair and just do the chemistry’. And she replied that she would only cut the ending a little bit. But when she was done, I realized that half of my hair was cut off and I was very afraid that my mother would notice when I go back. My grandmother lived a little further down the road and since then I did not visit her as frequently as before and when I did my hair was always tied up in a bun.

Students and Workers

During our studies, we went, together with students from other schools and universities, for a month to the Naursky Wine Farm ‘Severniy’ to gather grapes. After that, I completed a 5-month internship in the micro-district ‘Loo’ which is part of the Lazarevskaya district in Sochi. Back in Grozny we also completed internships in the cafeteria ‘Stolichna’,[2] ‘Lakomka’ and ‘Gourmand’ before four other girls and I completed training in the House of Culture with was named after ‘Lenin’.

A team of ‘Pastry Workers’

During my studies, which lasted from 1975 to 1977, we worked in all the factories of Grozny and products we made are being very well remembered up until now. The shops used to show our pastry work in nicely arranged displays. The confectioners who used to work with us in Grozny are still working with our recipes today. I can truly say that I have passed my best years with the best workers of the food industry.

In 1977, after completing our studies, some of my friends went to Bratsk to work there and some even married and have been living there ever since. We back home began to work in Grozny’s factories and restaurants. I continued to work in the kitchen of different restaurants and cafés in the House of Culture “Lenin” but had to leave the job soon because of the late working hours. Our last bus from the House of Culture left at 22:00 o’clock and my relatives insisted that I quit that job in order to find a something closer at the Café ‘Gifts of the Sea’, near the Dynamo stadium. But can you believe it? I faced the same public transport situation at the new workplace. Nevertheless, I kept working in this cafe for around three months before moving to a new position in the Radio Factory ‘Radiozavod’. I only worked until 15:00 o’clock there and it was so close to my home that I could even walk to work. Most of my classmates and neighbors also worked at the factory and so I decided to stay there in the canteen baking cakes, buns and helping other cooks. This is how my Radio Factory story began.

A place of kitchens and electroplating

I would like to tell you about my first day at work in the factory kitchen, where we prepared food for the restaurants and cafes. It began after graduating from school in august 1977. You know that I had to leave this position because of the bad transport connection from my house to the factory. One day, I missed the bus and I had to stay on for a second shift until the morning. My relatives started to worry about me at home. Of course we did not have any cell phones back then. But they knew that if I did not return home in time I must have missed the bus.

At the factory’s kitchen

When I saw the factory kitchen before the war, the building was still intact. But during the war I saw it falling apart and of course my feelings fell apart too. Memories of the lives of the people, who had worked in the factory, passed in front of my eyes. And aside from us workers, the building also hosted bakeries with buns, cheesecakes and other pastry. On the ground floor was a lemonade shop and the responsible transporter frequently stood underneath our windows and sang songs for us. Sometimes we gave him a cake and received lemonade syrup in exchange. It is a pity that it is all gone now because the factory’s kitchen was a wonderful place and so were its people. Everyone worked because of their conscience.

But we were not as good at our work like it used to be when I was working together with my classmates. That was mainly due to the inconveniences we faced when rushing from one place to another. I remember the head of the electroplating department because I knew him from before. He eventually persuaded me to change into his department but electroplating is very hard work with harmful conditions. When workers, who had worked in electroplating for around 10 years, reached the age of 50, they were sent into retirement. But I never regretted that I changed departments and the team was very good. Out of the 300 workers, I was the only Chechen woman in the department and my chief expected that I will not get married.

There is no God?

During Soviet years they taught us in schools that “There is no God.” But of course, we had our home faith. Praying was however never been done as openly as people are praying now; yet still, we prayed. We were even forbidden to observe Uraza.[3] My mother raised 4 children alone. I have two brothers and a sister.

My father died in an accident in 1961 and my mother became a widow in her 30s. She lived with us for 50 years and never remarried. She raised us all single-handedly and nobody went off the rails.

We are all working class children and we knew how difficult life might be. We also knew that if we want to achieve something we will have to work hard for it.

My sister is a tailor like me and she also worked in the factory. My brother became a senior musician and worked in the House of Culture in Kursk. Our younger brother worked as a driver since he returned from the army in 1982. And my mother, she was a tailor herself and she used to sew my dresses during my student years. And she not only made clothes for me, but tailored blankets, vests and many other things for the entire family. In her second job, she worked on construction sites. She was a very well respected woman and received lots of diplomas and certificates. And as a bonus for her good work she always got a piece of cloth which allowed her to sew different things for us.

In the radio factory

At the Radio Factory, I was responsible for the stencils which were used to create the pieces required for the production chain. Once all the components were ready they were soldered up into radios. The first step was the board for transistors, tape recorders and turn tables. This was followed by the assembly of these components and inscriptions like Sintar, Giala and others. My work was located in a building which was still being built under the supervision of my husband. Back then he was responsible for the completion of the main office building and the canteen. While working at the radio factory, I had the best boss, who constantly supported me even when my children were born. Sometimes he even let me go earlier than usual.

From cooks and a broken watch

I always loved different music. I liked Soviet songs as well as music from foreign artists, especially the songs of Joe Dassin, who was very popular back then.

The one thing I liked the most from the Soviet period is however the film ‘Girls. The main role in the film is played by a girl who is a cook and who has the same character as me.

And of course, I liked ‘Quiet Don’. This film is still popular nowadays. In these films human destinies are sometimes just like reality. One of the characters in the film ‘Girls’ [4] is a young man and as a gift, he gave a watch to the girl. Almost the same thing happened in my life. And when I did not take present from one man, he acted exactly like in this film ‘Girls’: he broke the watch.

Throughout my life, I have always worked hard. Sometimes I went to school while working in the factory at the same time. I continued to work in the factory until the year 2000. After that I stepped in as a manager of the school where I stayed until 2007 when I retired.”


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

[1] Banya or Russian for Sauna is a small room or building designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, or an establishment with one or more of these facilities.
[2] “Stolichna” was the most famous cafeteria in Grozny in Soviet times.
[3] Uraza is an Islamic holiday similar to Ramadan.
[4] The film Girls or ‘Devchata’ is a Soviet romantic comedy directed by Yuri Chulyukin based on a screenplay by Boris Bednyj.

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.

Leave a Reply