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. In our final story of this series, we will explore the memories of a socialist mechanical workshop.
The mechanical workshop in the village ‘Sadovoe’
“These mechanical workshops were built in Soviet times, but back then they used to have different names. They used to be a vegetable-milk producing state farms called ‘Sovkhoz Number 2’. The first time, when I joined ‘Sovkhoz Number 2’, I was still a student and just about to complete my accounting course. But a few months later, I was already promoted to the position of a senior accountant at the workshop and I worked there from 1972 to 1979.
The times back then were very good. The work was interesting and my team was very international, full of wonderful people. After 1979, I was transferred to the governmental cattle farm with around 6000 animals. This sector was characterized by incredibly hardworking responsible and conscientious people. Back then all the workshops worked and food and milk was distributed in the milk-distributing point in the village.
Photo by Tamara Taysumova
In the year 1991, I went on maternity leave and incredible changes began in the country. The Soviet Union collapsed and all collective factories in the village were dismantled. There was absolutely nothing left. Only the fields were preserved and corn, as well as gardens with vegetables. In the times of war, we also worked, but we were not paid for anything, instead we were given grain or waste. People worked for free.
The first assignment
I remember, on the day I was hired, the old workers kept saying the same thing: ‘You girls are so young; you will hardly cope with the workload. It is very hard work and it is unregulated.’ Nevertheless, I decided to keep my position and I was rewarded for this decision. It was interesting and I never regretted the that I stayed. Now I especially remember how we repaired all these tractors and cars.
The workshop was full of welding work, forging, and a large pantry for spare parts. We had probably around a million spare parts stored there.
All of this belonged to the repair equipment department which encompassed different warehouses. We really liked our work, even when we had to wake-up early in the morning every day, even on Saturdays or Sundays. We went to work all the time, nobody wanted to stay at home.
I also joined the Civil Defense  team of the state farm. I worked as a commander in the First Aid Department. I spent about a month in training before I went to compete in the district competitions which were organized every year in July. In general, I participated in all the activities of the farm and the workshops. During elections of Yeltsin and Khasbulatov, I was even part of the Electoral Committee where I ran the pre-election campaigns.
One more memory I recall is the ‘Politminutka’  which was not only our source of information about events that had occurred in the Soviet Union but also of those things which had happened abroad. We had a bureau of economic analysis, where political meetings were held. There we also had meetings with different political parties. And of course, I heard about books from Angela Davis, Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, and Clara Zetkine. But our idol at this time was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Our education system taught it this way, so we lived by his laws, we were his admirers and his pioneers and we worked and joined his ‘Komsomol’.
Sometimes, when we worked in the fields we also went to perform concerts. Since my youth, I have always loved music, dances, and I was always interested in playing the accordion.
I did not even notice how I learned to play the accordion. There was no event or wedding in the village organized without me. And even in the times of war, we often gathered in an abandoned club, where we arranged Chechen dances (Lovzargi) for the residents. I played the accordion and somebody else played the drums. This is how we supported each other during the war. I played the accordion, sang the Chechen folk songs and I loved to dance the Chechen traditional dance.
Almost a trip to Japan
Once we went off to rest in the fields. Upon our return, our friends told us that one of our colleagues had married a Japanese man. In Chechen language, the expression ‘Japan Maare Yachna’ can have two meanings, either that she is married to a Japanese man or that she went to Japan. After the news broke, all the colleagues were upset, because they thought that our bosses had paid for her trip to Japan. And so our colleagues complained to our team leader: ‘Why did you send her on a holiday to Japan? What are her achievements? She just joined our workshop and is already enjoying such benefits? Here are a lot of people with far more experience.’
But our team leader had a good sense of humor and realized what was really going on. He told us, that it was not up to him to choose a Japanese fiancee for her. And if we were disappointed about her choice of husband, we should go propose our candidatures to him. I remember, we laughed so much about this story and we could not forget it for a long time. And in Soviet times, it was quite common to give names like Herman or Japan. Now Chechen families are rather willing to give Arabic names to their newborns.
A family of workers
My parents always treated me with understanding and supported me for the fact that I sang, played the accordion, and worked in such a difficult job. They approved my work. They always gave me advice, and they liked that I was respected in our society. They were proud of me.
Travelling the USSR
While working at the workshops, the best workers, including me, were given vouchers to travel to the Baltic States for around 24 days. And we were able to see so many cities: Feodosia, Kherson, Kiev, Leningrad and many others. We met so many interesting people and of course, I made sure that we were always accompanied by music.
Since that time, I have always had such a quivering sediment from these Soviet times. Sometimes, I would like to return, especially to the time when I was young.
At that time, black leather coats were in fashion – not in the Chechen-Ingush ASSR (in 1936-1993 the so-called transformation of Chechnya and Ingushetia) – but in Europe. These coats were so ‘hip’ and we Chechen girls were always very fashionable and tried to match the trends of the fashion world whenever possible. When we found out that these raincoats are in fashion, we thought: ‘My God, raincoats, as a trend? Is it even possible to wear it like this?’
When I traveled to the Baltic States, the most memorable thing was the purchase of such a raincoat in a dark brown color. I also bought a velvet suit with a jacket – I remember it exactly – all in black. In Chechnya, it was impossible to find such clothes, they were of great rarity. I could only buy all this from the seafarers at the Baltic Sea coast with specific certificates, because those coats were not sold anywhere else.
The one thing I like more than clothes is cutlery. Recently, I turned on the TV and watched a report about the Maidan Square in Ukraine, where they were shooting each other not so long ago. I had also spent two weeks on the same Square in Khreshchatyk  in Soviet times.
Kiev was a very beautiful city. We visited so many sights. Were very well hosted by Ukrainians and ate delicious food. And we bought many beautiful things, especially beautiful Ukrainian cutlery and gold.
You will not believe it, but I still keep this cutlery at home and I bought it for 27 rubles exactly on Khreshchatyk. Ukrainian cutlery was famous for its quality. I believe that its quality is good, because I still use it up until now. And can you imagine, during the war, everyone laughed at me, because I hid the cutlery in the basement. Only when the war was over I got it from the hiding place. So you can imagine how dear it is to me.
New Year’s celebrations
New Year’s celebrations during Soviet times were such a joy that we already started preparing for the day two weeks in advance. We celebrated with our colleagues on 29 and 30 December. We prepared the table altogether. Someone baked a cake; someone made the ‘Olivier’ salad and of course, there was a Christmas tree. A tree is obligatory! There is no New Year’s without a Christmas tree. And then, from December 31 to January 1, we celebrated with the family at home. Ours was a Classic New Year’s evening, just like in any other Chechen family. The table was all set, the Christmas tree was decorated with toys and the TV was – of course – switched on. We watched the programme ‘Blue light’ and we always waited until they finally broadcasted Muslim Magomaev or Makhmud Esambayev; celebrities from our country.
Grozny after work
Generally, my most favorite activity in Grozny was watching movies in the ‘Yubileinyi’ (anniversary) cinema. Especially Indian movies, we never missed a show. And how did we cry and worry alongside these heroes? On the weekends we liked to meet up with our friends in the canteen ‘Stolichnyi’ (metropolitan). Stolichnyi was one of the most beloved places among all residents of Grozny and they made delicious ‘Potato’ cakes.
My friends and I also loved to spend time at the Cinderella Hairdressing Salon, located in the center of Grozny. Once we were invited to a wedding of a common friend, so we went to the Hairdressing Salon to make ourselves beautiful. We wanted to be fashionable, to shine and to appear in something new at the event. So we decided to curl our hairs.
But unfortunately, I did not know anything about the consequences of chemical hair treatments. The next morning after this beauty experiment, was a nightmare. My hair looked awful. I was even afraid to leave the house and very worried that my mother would see me with this hairstyle. So I tried to hide all my hair under a scarf and the end of the scarf went up. I looked like a ‘Kokoshnik’. After this unsuccessful hair experiment, we never went back to the hairdressing salon.
The end of the USSR
July 1991 was a day I will never forget. I worked the last time for the First Aid department of the Civil Defense. We were laughing all day long and we thought that our country would be attacked from abroad.
After all, we workers were asked during all these trainings, what we would do in case war breaks out. And everybody shared what they thought they would do. But we never thought that the Soviet Union itself would fall apart.
But it did and then everything was lost in two or three years. Nothing was left. During the war, I liked to correspond with my classmates, since they had moved to different cities, and some of them had already died at that time. I waited for the postman with trembling fingers when he came to deliver letters to the village. But I believed in God at that time and I prayed. Now I still pray. In the Chechen language, God is called Delhi.
The last time, I saw the building was in 1994. It was already partially destroyed. The whole workshop was damaged; everything crumbled and aside from the walls not much was left. Seeing all of this, made me feel really sad. Back in the days, I spent so much time in this building and now it is simply empty. The most precious time for me was my youth. And I find it sad and almost offensive that this time has passed so quickly and I cannot do anything about it. Nothing can be changed, returned, or altered. And the only memories of the time spent in this building, are the letters of gratitude that were once given to the best workers of the workshop.”
To safeguard the anonymity of the protagonists, names of locations and individuals have been changed.
 Civil defense or civil protection represented an organized effort to protect citizens of a state or village (civilians) from military attacks and natural disasters. It used the principles of emergency operations: prevention, mitigation, preparation, response, or emergency evacuation and recovery.
 The “Political Minute” was a form of briefing for the Soviet youth covering domestic and international news.
 ‘Kreshatik’ is the main square in Kiev.
 The ‘Kokoshnik’ is a traditional Russian headdress worn by women and girls to accompany the Sarafan, primarily worn in the northern regions of Russia from the 16th to the 19th century.
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.