Back to the village: When nature calls

A number of Russians find the life in big cities tiresome and leave the "concrete jungles" for countryside communities - eco-villages. Pictured: The Sinegorye village in the Krasnodar Region founded by  the “Anastasie" group. Source: Grigory Kubatian

A number of Russians find the life in big cities tiresome and leave the "concrete jungles" for countryside communities - eco-villages. Pictured: The Sinegorye village in the Krasnodar Region founded by the “Anastasie" group. Source: Grigory Kubatian

Some Russians are giving up the dream of a successful life in the city for living as rural people did centuries ago.

 

A number of Russians find the life in big cities tiresome and leave the "concrete jungles" for countryside communities - eco-villages. Pictured: The Sinegorye village in the Krasnodar Region founded by  the “Anastasie" group. Source: Grigory Kubatian

A few years ago, Russians flocked to the cities where it was thought life would be easier and more comfortable, but now the tide has turned, and people are leaving to start a new life in the countryside. These people have simply had enough of life in the concrete jungle; the world of noise, smog, dirt, traffic jams, bad drinking water and artificial food from the supermarket shelves.  Yet some people know how to deal with the problem. They get together, form a community and  create an eco-village.

The main difference between an ordinary Russian village and an eco-village is the people that live there. Inhabitants of an average Russian village were generally born there, rarely travel, and adhere to strict local customs. People living in eco-villages, on the other hand, are exiles from city life, and they tend to hold to various ''environmental'' ideas. These ideas often have a lot in common with Buddhism: no meat, no cigarettes, no alcohol, a policy of non-violence and clean-living, and being in tune with nature as far as possible. This means only environmentally friendly building materials, and nothing but the best organic food. The traditional concept of family planning is not regarded here – people have as many children as God sees fit.

On paper, and also in the many Internet forums on ecological living, all this sounds idyllic - a return to a lost rural paradise. But what is it really like?

One of the most pressing problems facing these eco-pioneers is the question of accommodation, and at the moment these eco-villages mainly consist of cheap and simple houses. Building a traditional Russian wooden log cabin requires skilled craftsmen, and quite a lot of money – in the 21st century you can’t just go to the woods and chop down a tree. It’s therefore much simpler to build a house out of daub (clay mixed with straw), or sometimes straw on its own. Some villages have earthen houses that are partially buried underground. This is supposed to solve the problem of heating, and there is probably a lot of truth in this, however, this does not stop the people who were born and raised in the countryside from laughing at these new-age villagers: clay houses and dug-outs were the traditional abode of serf peasants before the revolution, as well as the partisans who were forced to hastily set up camp in the forest to escape the Nazis. The people who live in the eco-village have a good come-back for these comments: They say that there is nothing wrong with a cheap house – if the local authorities dismantle it, it’s not difficult to build a new one. Most of the new villagers are so wary of the government that they are prepared to live in primitive communal conditions to avoid having to deal with them.

Food is another issue. In order to “survive the apocalypse” and “guarantee the health of your children” you have to grow your own food – a good variety of it, all free of chemicals and enough to last you through the winter. The ideas of permaculture, as propagated by the Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer and the Japanese writer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka are becoming increasingly popular amongst newcomers to the countryside, who are often also new to the concept of hard manual labor. Permaculture is defined as ''permanent agriculture'' and works on the basis that cultivated crops grow in symbiosis with wild plants, and a farmer can grow crops by working with the natural ecosystem. This means there is no need to plough the earth or use fertilizers, and the farmer does not need to worry about removing weeds and pests. The idea is that in the right environment the plants will sort things out for themselves.

“Here is where I’ve sown my tomatoes. And there are the watermelons…I just threw the seeds and there we are - the seeds grew and I didn’t have to do a thing!” said Hare Krishna follower Valery, as he proudly showed off his vegetable garden in the Sinegorye village. He pushed away ferns and weeds, and, sure enough there is a tomato plant and watermelons growing nearby.

“Ideally a permaculture farmer only goes to his plot of land twice a year: once to plant the seeds, and another time to gather the harvest. And if you’re doing it right, eventually you only go once to gather the harvest,” he said.

The Sinegorye village is in the Krasnodar Region. It was founded by a group known as the “Anastasievtsy,” who believe in leading a simple rural life away from the big cities. Although they define themselves as a religious sect, the Anastasievtsy accept people of all religious orientations, and welcome Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Pagans and atheists; anyone, so long as they are sane and don’t drink. This is because if they were drunks, they might as well go to any village in Russia.

Valery himself came to sunny Krasnodar from the cold wastes of Primorye in the Far East, where watermelon seeds would definitely not grow so well. He doesn’t drink and he doesn’t eat meat, he cooks vegetarian Indian cuisine and bakes his own unleavened bread, and, as soon as he sits down at the table, he immediately wishes everyone happiness four times.

When the villagers are first starting out, they are usually able to live off savings scraped together in their former lives. But when these dry up they often face serious hardship – providing for 100 percent of your material needs without any form of stable income is not easy. Neither is it easy to do tough physical labor, day in day out. Valery is already building his second house – unfortunately the first one burned down. His neighbors decided to build a house of daub six years ago, but at the moment all to be seen of their new house is the framework, meaning they and their two small children are having to live in a hastily erected shelter made of polythene stretched over a makeshift frame – a structure that is more like a greenhouse than a home.

In the village next to Sinegorye live Nikolai and Galina from Sochi. They bought a small plot of land and in just one month they managed to build a two-storey house made of straw bales. On the outside, the bales are plastered in clay, and inside they are covered in plasterboard. The owners think the house will be warm in winter and shouldn’t get too damp. The main threat to the structure are mice, but, according to Galina: “if you use rice straw, the mice won’t eat it.”

The movement is still new, and it remains to be seen what consequences it will result in.

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