Ukrainians’ Quest for Permanence and Sanctuary
What remains is history or rather, a memory of history for many older Ukrainians. An agrarian country, Ukrainians’ undisputed connection to the land surpassed Tsars and Communist leaders alike. The dacha, originally a shed next to an accompanying plot of land, embodies a necessary “retreat” from the urban Ukrainian landscape.
The word, dacha, sometimes translated as chalet or “something given” date back to the time of the Tsars when loyal servants were bequeathed small country estates. The ruling Russian aristocracy employed their dachas for masquerade balls, fireworks displays and sumptuous parties. Centuries later, the Industrial Revolution spawned the obsession with escape to the country for the upper and middles classes of Russian society.
Though most dachas were commandeered by Soviet leaders after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, paradoxically, the Soviet regime came to contribute to the Ukrainian fascination with the dacha by allocating small strips of farmland to workers allowing people to escape the inhumanity of urban life. The cities after all bred natural oppression of workers, pollution and discontent even after the Revolution. As more pastoral minded architects of the Revolution came to believe that workers thrived on nature, tiny allotments of land were handed out to workers en masse. The collapse of the centrally planned Soviet agricultural program further fueled the success of the dachas. Often ill-equipped with modern conveniences and lacking indoor plumbing, city dwellers of every persuasion still flock to the country to indulge in their inexpensive summer retreats.
Party leaders enjoyed the break from urban life, too, and following Lenin’s example, many “looted the looters” by ordering the construction of sprawling and elaborate country estates to escape the suffocating cities. Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachov enjoyed their own “dachas”, and occasionally opened the doors to their retreats to average citizens by sponsoring bus excursions.
Visitors to the eastern region of Yalta can visit Chekov’s dacha, now a museum, perched on the foot of Genoese Cliff. Like many country retreats in other parts of the world, some Ukrainian dachas may be rented by travelers occasionally, so if you are looking for a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of Ukrainian city life, consider renting a dacha. Weeding the garden plots is optional!