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Photography - issue #2

Defining the Dacha

Photography by Kate Kuzminova

Russian photographer Kate Kuzminova peels away from city living to experience the calm and tranquillity of dacha life.

From Friday evening to Sunday night there are lines of cars leaving and entering Russia’s cities, and it’s busy on the elektrichkas (electric trains). It’s a typical commute for city residents to and from their dachas.

The word dacha has no direct equivalent in other languages, but its etymology comes from the verb ‘to give’. The Tsar Peter I gifted his loyal noblemen with the rich estates that are referred to in classical Russian literature. No one called them dachas back then, but the tradition to rest and spend time in the countryside comes from that era.

They used to be considered the privilege of the rich at the beginning of the 20th century, but over the years they have become a feature of middle-class life. After the second world war traditional dachas developed into their modern form: a 600 square metre piece of land occupied by a summer house without heating or plumbing.

Both in Soviet times and now, they have several important functions. They are an affordable form of recreation in summer: children spend their summer holidays there with their grandparents, while their parents work in the city and visit them at weekends. It is estimated that 60 million Russians own dachas and for many it is a way of feeding themselves: growing fruit and vegetables and preserving them for the long winter months. It is a place to escape the confines of the city and embrace nature. Mushroom picking, swimming in the rivers, and barbecues are just some of the traditions associated with the dacha.

In the post-soviet era they have evolved. Although many are still ramshackle sheds with outside toilets, some modern dachas are well-built cottages with swimming pools. But, regardless of style, they still have a special place and importance in the lives of many Russians.

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