I've been to Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union a number of times. I was working with a USAID project at a hospital in Sankt-Peterburg, formerly Leningrad, before that Petrograd. That exposed me to quite a bit of Russian toilets and other plumbing. I traveled in and out of Russia through Estonia, and would also visit Latvia and Lithuania. After a number of weeks in Russia, the toilets of the Baltic nations can be a big improvement.
Here are just a few of the many Russian toilets I have encountered. First, though, let's handle some important logistics:
|Where is the toilet?||Где находится туалет?|
|See my pictures and stories about traveling and working in Russia.|
Hospital #122, Sankt-Peterburg
This toilet is in a ward hallway in Hospital #122 in the Name of Sokolov, on the northern edge of Sankt-Peterburg, Russia.
Note the open plumbing chase. It is used by patients to dispose of empty vodka bottles, newspapers, and cigarette butts. Many plumbing chases in the hospital have experienced minor flue fires.
The Inspection Shelf
In the mid-20th century the Soviet Union imported the odd lavatorial concept of a toilet "inspection shelf" from Germany (and see some discussion of this in the Toilet Letters). German toilets typically had a flat surface to catch the feces where they can be visually inspected. While Germany seems to have moved away from this design, it remains in some other countries, including the Netherlands.
Notice the relatively thick vertical column at the front of this toilet. This is its drain. In contrast, most toilets I have encountered have their drain toward the rear. This front-draining design supports the inspection shelf.
The inspection shelf is a flat surface for fecal inspection forming the rear half or more of the bottom surface of the drain. The flushing water stream must loosen the feces and move them to the drain and down, while also cleaning the inspection shelf area. As you can imagine, this is an imperfect process and the system is prone to extreme "skid marks".
For this reason you usually see toilet brushes next to toilets, and when there isn't one, you wish there was.
This toilet and shower are in a dorm room in the postgraduate nursing school associated with Hospital #122 in the Name of Sokolov, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia.
Notice the roll of Russian toilet paper at left, much less rare now than back in the bad old Soviet days.
Immediately post-breakup, one of only two toilet paper factories in the entire USSR had been in Latvia. That meant that the remaining pieces of the Soviet empire lost that valuable resource in the first wave.
Russian TP quality has greatly improved by the time I got there. But during one work trip I needed sandpaper to finish some plaster repair, and a Russian asked if the local TP would suffice.
It was often hard to tell when the Russians were being ironic.
This is a public toilet in a train station in Moscow.
Note the standard Russian lack of seat, just a refreshingly cool porcelain bowl. It's especially bracing during those chilly Russian winters.
Also notice the prison-style door. It's far scarier in person, as there is no lighting and one experiences the fear of the unknown.
Bring a flashlight! Or a camera with a flash.
At left is a Russian passenger car on the Moscow — Sankt-Peterburg line.
Many Russian train toilets have weak or broken springs on the trapdoor at the base of the bowl, providing a view of the tracks rushing past underneath and a refreshing breeze.
There's no toilet paper in this compartment, although there is a wire brush in a small bucket....
|Latvian Toilet Logistics|
|Where is the toilet?||Kur ir tualete?|
Notice the footpads. Most Soviet rail cars were built to all-USSR standards. This feature was for Central Asian use.
Lower the seat and it's a raised throne. In the configuration shown, it's an elevated squatter.
The tricky part is staying perched up there as the train sways through erratic Soviet-era rail joints, especially on the largely unmaintained Russian rail lines.
The exposed plumbing may provide adequate hand grips for those trying these advanced techniques, although someone in our group working at the hospital in Sankt-Peterburg was sent flying with semi-disastrous results during just such an attempt.