MOSCOW (AP) _ Rat-infested apartments with crumbling walls and collapsing ceilings are hidden behind the pretty pastel facades of the city's first pedestrian mall, a Soviet news magazine says.

The slum-like conditions along trendy Arbat Street include burst pipes and a frequent lack of hot water in crowded apartments shared by several families, the weekly Ogonyok said in its April 24 edition.

The fronts of the buildings along Arbat Street, the city's old cultural center, were restored in 1984-85 during construction of the mall, which stretches for about a half-mile.

Ogonyok reporters visited the street after receiving letters from residents there complaing about living conditions.

''Thousands are coming here to enjoy smartly painted houses in this street. It doesn't occur to anybody to look behind the shell, to see what is happening inside,'' one resident, L. Teleshova, wrote.

''We keep telling everybody that Arbat is a 'Potemkin Village' with painted facades and rotten innards,'' the magazine quoted her as saying later in an interview.

''Potemkin Village'' is an expression referring to a tactic attributed to Grigory Potemkin, one of Catherine the Great's ministers. Potemkin is said to have built brightly painted village fronts along routes traveled by the empress to create an illusion of prosperity.

Arbat Street is the heart of a 600-year-old district just west of the Kremlin. Traditionally known as Moscow's cultural center, its charm is recalled in Russian poetry and songs.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was a fashionable aristocratic district and the home of many celebrated Russians, including poet Alexander Pushkin.

During construction of the pedestrian mall, workers repainted the building facades in pastel blues, pinks and yellows and added fancy decorations to some storefronts. Streets were paved with bricks, streetlamps were erected, and planters and wooden benches were brought in.

The street's only movie theater was closed and a video rental shop put in its place.

The project cost abut $6 million.

Ogonyok said two of its reporters visited the site and found apartments with ceiling plaster falling down, walls crumbling, burst pipes and no hot water.

In one apartment, the reporters heard a rustling in one corner.

''Rats. The cat saves me from them,'' Ogonyok quoted the apartment's occupant, T. Vovchenko, as saying.

''There's not always water, either,'' she said. ''I feel ashamed when strollers (on the street) see me going to fetch some water with my bucket.''

When residents complain to the city, Ogonyok said, they are told ''it is no concern of ours. We create the walking zone for the whole capital's benefit. Your problems must concern your district authorities.''

Some of those living in communal apartments have been on a waiting list for a single-family residence for 40 years, the magazine said.

Arbat Street residents also told Ogonyok that they're constantly bothered by the thousands of mall visitors who want to use their toilets or who come into apartment buildings to keep warm while waiting for a cafe table.

At one apartment the problem was so bad residents boarded up the front door, the magazine said.