Why does owning a little country house in the Russian countryside mean so much? Because, who doesn’t want to tell all their friends that they are the proud owners of a dacha. While these houses long stood to symbolize privilege and wealth, under new Soviet leader Khrushchev, the homes became more available for broader sections of the Soviet populous. Due to the growing inner city populations, and the overcrowding and pollution that existed, many craved the sparseness and fresh air of the countryside, so dachas became more and more coveted. Following the Russian Revolution, most dachas became nationalized and remained so pretty much up until the fall of Soviet Russia.
Now there were different types of dacha’s depending on one’s social standing because a top Soviet celebrity or politician could not simply live among the common folk. The more opulent and expensive dacha’s were situated closer to the cities, while the average ones were further out into the rural landscape.
Taking vacations out to their dachas became a tradition for the citizenry who at the conclusion of the work week would take the electrichka, or green electric train out into the countryside, returning Monday. The fact that they had a dedicated line of transport just into dacha territory reflects just how much they valued their leisure time and closeness to nature.
But, get this, dachas were not just private homes, they served a number of other purposes such as housing children’s institutions or daycares. This letter published in 1956 by the Russian Press outlines the need for dachas specifically for children where parents can send them off to for the summer that was safe, economical/affordable, and away from the pollution of the large cities but still close enough that the drive is manageable.
When we talk about political capital, dachas were the ideal tool. Stalin used to give out dachas to his closest allies in the government because he believed that such gifts would keep them loyal and motivated.
At his Valday dacha Sergey Yudin, deputy director of a pipeline repair firm, plants, burns weeds, and indulges the “inner peasant” who lives within many Russians. In pinched Soviet times such gardens grew some 90 percent of Russia’s vegetables.
Back then dachas were grouped into villages based on the occupation of those who occupied them (writers, politicians, artists etc.). Also, if you were fortunate enough to be allotted a dacha, get this, you didn’t technically own it! They were still owned by the state, and you were considered a renter. As the dacha essay by James Von Geldern in Seventeen Moments states, “Often indifferent to maintenance and back-breaking labor at the work place, Russians invested considerable sweat equity in their dachas, despite the fact that they were not the legal owners. The six-hundred square meter plots usually allotted to lucky workers under Khrushchev were still owned by the state. ”
Russian cared deeply about these homes, even though they did not own. Garden cultivation also exploded in the post-Soviet years as the crops grown from them provided much-needed food sources necessary during the 90s when food in the stores was scarce. Vegetables grown were often pickled in jars and preserved for the winter as shown above.
One of many dacha plots surrounding Kstovo, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast