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24 Apr, 2009 06:16

Family of thirteen cooped up in two rooms

A family in Samara, a city on the bank of the Volga River, has tackled Russia's demographic problem on their own.

It may look like a scene of familial bliss: older siblings helping their younger brothers to read.

But life for the Klyuchikov family is far from blissful.

Two parents and eleven children all live in this tiny two-room flat.

It’s been like this since the sixth child was born into this deeply religious family.

“We moved out of our parents’ place when we had two children. Then we lived in a hostel until we had six children. We asked for our own apartment when we had our third and fourth, and we were put on a waiting list. When Perestroika began, they told us that we had a choice of getting a two-room apartment or nothing at all,” recalls Lyubov Klyuchikova.

The groundfloor flat is extremely cramped. Clothes and toys overflow cupboards, and all the family’s meals have to be prepared and served in a tiny kitchen.

For many years, the Klyuchikovs have been asking the local authorities for a larger dwelling, but their appeals have gone unanswered.

So they took things into their own hands.

With the authorities offering no help, Lyubov decided to move down into the basement and turn that into a bedroom for her children.

Clearing out the basement was a lot of work – they had to literally dig themselves a network of rooms.

Nine of the children now sleep down there, but conditions are far from ideal.

Pipe work is exposed, plaster is peeling, and walls and ceilings are riddled with dampness.

It’s a living environment that human rights workers have described as unacceptable.

“It's very important to make some steps from words to deeds – I appeal to the top leaders,” says human rights worker Boris Altshuler.

Local authorities have now promised to help, and Lyubov is optimistic about a better future.

“The authorities haven’t treated us that badly. They have given us help buying clothes and food. We are more hopeful now. We’ve been told a bigger apartment should be available next year,” she says.

But until that materializes, the Klyuchikov family must continue to live partially underground.