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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Anna Stepanova
Former worker at Asbest asbestos complex in 30's

The 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 30's:

Q.  Where did the workers come from?  What was their situation?

A.  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," not Tartars.

Q.  What were living conditions like?

A.  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.

Q.  Did they get sick?

A.  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--

Q.  Was it hard to get provisions?

A.  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.

Q.  Were there lines?

A.  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.

Q.  How did people feel about the Americans and other foreigners here?


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