Former worker at Asbest asbestos
complex in 30's
following interview was conducted as a part of the documentary
program Yanks for Stalin concerning American aid in the
industrial development of the Soviet Union during the 20's and
Where did the workers come from? What was their situation?
Since everything was done by manual labor, there were 4,000 workers
there. For a city of this size, that was practically an
army. Generally speaking, the workers were peasants who
had left their villages in an attempt to escape mass collectivization.
There was a second category of workers, those who were recruited.
The factories sent recruiters to different regions, and very many
ethnic Tartars came here. We called them back then "nationals,"
What were living conditions like?
They were terrible. There was a housing shortage, and the
peasants from the villages built themselves wooden huts and mud
houses. These structures popped up all over our city like
mushrooms. There were abandoned junk-heaps and other similar
places where many such structures were built. I am surprised
at how God protected them from fire. Barracks were built
for the recruits. The recruits were rather undemanding,
and just lived in their barracks.
Did they get sick?
I don't know, but I don't think so. The generations of workers
here seem to have better genes from their peasant ancestors.
They had good health. Peasants, as you know, ate well, they
had eggs, milk--
Was it hard to get provisions?
It was very hard. As a rule, the stores were always empty.
For example, in one newspaper it was written that for the May
1 celebrations 150 kg of pork and 100 kg of beef were given to
the best workers. It was their reward for highly-productive
labor. This is a miserly amount for 1,000 people, but the
newspapers treated it as if it were some fantastic reward.
There was a ration-card system for the stores. You already
know that once collectivization began the productivity of the
land fell, which led to widespread hunger. Especially here.
Were there lines?
Yes. If something was brought in, people would run to the
store to get in line. They would hold on to each other to
form a solid chain, single-file, and the lines just grew.
I remember a gloomy joke of that time: A truck pulls up
to a kiosk loaded with goods. No one knows what is on the
truck. A boy is walking with his mother and sees that a
line is forming, and growing. He runs up and grabs on to
the person in front of him in line. Someone grabs onto him.
He stands in line and wonders what they will be selling.
Then he sees that they had brought women's stockings. He
shouts to his mother, "Mama, they're selling stockings."
His mother answers, "Take them, we'll eat them all."
Of course, she didn't hear what he said, but the point is that
finding food was a big problem.
How did people feel about the Americans and other foreigners here?