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Soviet Legacy in Kabul

One of the enduring legacies of the former USSR in Afghanistan was and still is the apartment blocks, known as microrayons, built for government employees and workers. As one Afghan expert put it, these buildings were neither beautiful nor appealing to the skeptical Afghans due to ‘strangeness of layout; the unfamiliar design; and the rumors that the toilets were pointed in the direction of Mecca’. However, these buildings were sturdy and durable and more likely to withstand the force of an earthquake compared to traditional buildings in Kabul.

Nevertheless, this Soviet concept of apartment blocks drastically altered the city design and layout and brought a fortress-like appearance to buildings, and set the tone for a modern Kabul. The building of these blocks started in 1965 with the help of the USSR and by 1978, when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took over, some twenty to fifty thousand square meters of land in Kabul was annually set aside for the construction of these residential blocks, producing thousands of apartments. Residents of the blocks gradually found them agreeable as they benefited from social and physical conveniences attached to them such as the health centers, green spaces, kindergartens and theatres.

An interesting aspect of the macrorayon project was the creation of a housing construction factory complex for the production of building materials, modules and patterns required to build the apartment blocks.

 As the chief supervisor of the macrorayon project, engineer Zalmay puts it, ‘the Soviets hoped to demonstrate that through their assistance and help to the Afghan people they could coexist in political and social unity.’ The toppling of the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul brought the project to an end, and the ensuing civil war led to the destruction of many of these buildings. The factory itself ceased to operate and was largely destroyed too. In recent years, however, attempts have been made to revive parts of the factory as is shown in this multimedia report from Kabul.

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