Togliatti, a “mono-industrial” city, is one of the largest automaker car factories in Russia. But due to international sanctions, the city and its workers are in danger of being dragged into the abyss.
In a small apartment in the Autozovodsky Ryan, a checkerboard district surrounding the sprawling factory that produces the legendary Lada, workers sit under the red flags of their Edinsight (Unity) union.
“This is a factory town. Everyone here works for the factory or for the police,” said Alexandre Kolinin, 45, an automaker who has been a lift driver for 15 years.
“For Togliatti, the factory was everything. The whole city was built around it,” said Irina Mialkina, 33, who worked in a spare parts depot for eleven years during the Soviet era.
The city gained fame during the Soviet era, the chaos of the 1990s, and then revived with Renault in 2010, when Togliatti was the first factory.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine and international economic sanctions, Togliatti and his workers are preparing for a new dark era.
“When I started, I was full of enthusiasm, I was hoping for a good income. I still hope so, ”Irina said with a sad smile.
In the meantime the salary will be reduced.
Due to restrictions, parts and spare parts will no longer come. Workers are technically unemployed, two-thirds of the salary. Thus Irina receives less than 13,000 or 190 Canadian dollars in her 20,000 monthly rubles.
“The rise in prices is enormous and people are panicking,” she sighed, as inflation began to gallop again.
However, the future looks bright in 2018. Renault took the press along with the AFP to visit its new industrial jewelry on the Volga, which was restored at great expense.
Thanks to the investment of billions of euros, the French group modernized the obsolete Soviet factory. The staff of 120,000 during the Soviet era was also halved in ten years by 70,000 to 40,000 (for a city with a population of less than 700 000).
“There are many problems with employee departures, but there is a clear positive trend. A great Russian automobile manufacturer was born,” explained Andrei Yakovlev of the High School of Economics in Moscow.
In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine a dream similar to the assembly lines stopped.
Employees are due to take their three-week summer vacation in April, but Renault is considering leaving AutoVAZ. The city and its owner are in despair, no one wants to talk at the Russian industrial giant.
Like the Lada Museum and many subcontractors, the factory doors were closed for AFP.
While filming the AFP factory surroundings, the AvtoVAZ security service called police who questioned the journalists and took them to the station.
For now, if there were no layoffs, most employees would have already had to take a second job.
Leonid Emchanov, 31, a mechanic for a salary, felt he was “ineligible” to join his job as a caretaker to support his wife and two children.
The fall of AvtoVAZ also covers the entire section of Russian industrial history.
In the underground garage, two men in period covers cover an 80s Lada Niva, legendary 4×4 interior, with a freshly painted body glowing red.
“Since childhood, my whole life has been associated with the factory. My uncle came to work there in the 1970s, then my dad, my mom and I joined them (…). All our relatives in Togliatti worked in the factory and I worked there myself. I have no choice, everything is tied up with the company, “said Sergei Diogrik.
At age 43, he oversees the Lada History Club, bringing together Soviet car fans from all over the world. Once a mechanic, he now devotes himself to restoring vintage ladas.
“It’s a powerful product. According to the Innovive company, a record 720,000 cars a year in the early 1980s,” he said, with nearly 300,000 cars produced in Togliatti in 2021.
“It was fashionable to come here. Now it is fashionable for young people to go to Moscow or anywhere else, ”lamented Sergei.
But he wants to be hopeful, because Togliatti was able to get out of the chaos and bandit of the 1990s.
Researcher Yakovlev predicts that AvtoVAZ will “focus entirely on locally produced models,” and he predicts that they will “consult with the Chinese.”
But it could take two to three years for AutoVAZ and its factory town to reinvent itself.