Vladimir Putin Slept Here: Russian President 2000

Article excerpt

Putin's St. Petersburg addresses

Russian President Vladimir Putin always makes a point of referring to his St. Petersburg origins. There is even a group, a sort of an inner circle in his entourage, called the "piterskiye moskvichi" ("St. Petersburg Muscovites").

The president also likes to take visiting foreign leaders to his home city--as he has done with French President Jacques Chirac and, last May, with George Bush. Quite possibly, local tour guides will soon offer a tour called "Putin's Places in St. Petersburg." Yet, perhaps because of the long years Putin spent in the secret services, oftentimes truth and legend make it hard to pin these places down.

What is known for sure is that Vladimir Viadimirovich Putin was born on October 7, 1952 in the St. Petersburg maternity home named for Professor Vladimir Snegirev at Mayakovsky Street 5. The home continues to be one of the most esteemed maternity homes in the city, as it has under its wing the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the Academy of Postgraduate Education, a place where Russian doctors come to improve their skills and knowledge.

The newborn Volodya was brought home to 12 Baskov lane, where the Putins lived in a kommunalka, several families living in one large apartment, sharing a bathroom and kitchen. Today, 50 years later and a decade after the fall of socialism, kommunalki are still quite familiar to many St. Petersburgers. Some 700,000 of them still live in such conditions (see Russian Life, Apr/May 1999).

Putin's kommunalka neighbor, Vera Gurevich, recalled:

There was virtually no kitchen. Only a square-shaped dark corridor without windows. On one side there was a gas stove, on the other the sink. And it was so hard to fit in between them.

The future president thus learned the hard way what it meant to "live close to the people." Even now, when he discusses his government's plans to improve Russians' living standards, he likes to remind his listeners that he himself lived in a kommunalka until he was in his 30s.

But time marches on. The building where the president spent his childhood is hard to recognize as the warren of kommunalkis it was then. The kommunalkis have been relocated and most of the apartments have been bought up by the newly rich (who, no doubt, saw "added value" in living in the president's "boyhood home"). The courtyard teems with swanky cars and on one floor serious renovation is taking place--Telekombank is opening an office there.

A stone's throw from Baskov lane there is an old school. It used to house the women's gymnasium founded by Princess Obolenskaya. One of its famous pre-revolutionary graduates was Nadezhda Krupskaya--the wife of Lenin--Russia's first post-revolutionary ruler named Vladimir. By the time Volodya Putin began attending school here, on September 1,1960, School #123 bore Krupskaya's name. He spent his first eight years in school here. When he was at the university, the school building was given to a technical college and today it houses a college that trains bookkeepers, bank employees and office managers.

Not far from the Baskov lane rises the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior. Official biographers aver that Putin's mother, Maria, had young Volodya baptized here, hiding the rite from her husband, a devout communist. It is hard to confirm this fact through documents, as church representatives won't provide access to records from 1952. Nonetheless, this event plays a key role in understanding Putin as a person, as he likes to demonstrate his long attachment to religion. In the book In the First Person, Putin confessed: "There were also pensioners in our apartment ... My baptism is tied to them. Our neighbor, grandma Anya, was a pious person; she attended church and, when I was born, her and mom, together, hiding it from dad, a party member and party secretary of the workshop, had me baptized ... Many years later, in 1993, when I was working in Lensoviet [the City Council], I went to Israel as part of an official delegation. …