A faux propaganda image featuring a rural scene from the early post-war Soviet Union. Depicts a GAZ M-20 Pobeda automobile, in front of a dacha (rural summer house). Across the upper part of the image is an “M20” hood ornament, Cyrillic (Russian) text reading “ГАЗ” (GAZ) and a side ornament found on the vehicles featuring stylized Cyrillic text reading “Победа” (Pobeda). The image has been “aged” to suggest that it dates from the early post-war period.

Internal Soviet propaganda often tried to inform the people how good life was in the USSR. A dacha and a car to get there signified the good life. City dwellers dreamed of having a small plot of land outside the city to flee to on summer weekends, away from the heat and dirt of the city.

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russian gaz pobeda and dacha

GAZ M20 Pobeda parked near a dacha

The Pobeda, was the first automobile manufactured for the public after the end of World War. The M20 was produced 1946 to 1958. GAZ (ГАЗ is a Russian acronym for Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod – Gorsky Automobile Factory) Pobeda (Победа) is the Russian word for victory. The name was chosen because the car was first tested in 1943 when an Allied victory in World War II began to appear likely.The Pobeda was manufactured under license in Poland and a few were assembled in North Korea. The Pobeda was the first post-war Soviet-made automobile and the first Soviet vehicle to have turn signals, two electric wipers, an electric heater, and a built-in AM radio. The car came to be a symbol of postwar Soviet life and is today a popular collector’s item. A total of 235,997 Pobedas were produced. A number of M20s have been extensively customized in recent years. There are even a few “muscle car” versions on the road.

The word “dacha” originated in the 17th century from the verb “davat’” (to give), in reference to plots of land distributed by the Tsar. At the beginning of the 18th century during the reign of Peter the Great dachas became popular as summer holiday retreats. The nobility used their dachas for social and cultural gatherings, including masquerade balls and fireworks displays.

By the end of the 19th century, a house in the country was one of the necessary possessions of the rich as well as the middle class. Russian poets and playwrights (including Alexander Pushkin and Anton Chekhov) mentioned dachas in their works. Summer homes in beautifully adorned areas became a “place-to-be” for many Russian artists. Many types of goods were specially manufactured for dacha use – from lady’s accessories such as fans and hat to furniture items and even toilets.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution some dachas became “holiday homes” for workers.

Dachas became very popular after the end of World War. For some it was not just a weekend getaway. A dacha with a small plot of land let people save their tiny incomes. Here they could plant their own vegetables. They stored potatoes in cellars, pickled cucumbers and made jams out of apples and pears in order to have some food reserves to last through the cold Russian winter. Some people grew fruits and vegetables not only for their own consumption, but to sell as well.

In many areas the plots of land for dachas were limited to 0.06 hectares (about .15 acres). A plot of that size was too small for most people to live on permanently; authorities needed to keep workers in the big cities and were not interested in the restoration of private farming on a wider scale. The concession of the “zero point zero six of a hectare” was necessary because the country could not provide its people with enough food. As a result many dacha settlements sprang up with small houses standing right next to each another.

There were legal size restrictions for dacha houses. They had to have not more than 25 m² (269 square feet) of living area and be only one storey tall. That’s why they usually had a Mansard roof with a small second storey room, which was considered by authorities as just a big garret or attic, not a second storey. Dachas built since the dissolution of the Soviet Union tend to be rather larger.

A typical plot of land was surrounded by berry trees and shrubs. There was a small house (in many cases – with no conveniences at all) and a hut for storing garden tools. Around the house there were rows of plants and vegetables. In the areas around Moscow potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers were the main crops. However, the owners’ fantasies about what to plant knew no boundaries. A row of strawberries became “a must” for many (strawberries usually ripen faster than everything else). In the south beans and even melons were grown, while in Siberia many dacha lovers liked to plant sakura (Japanese cherries). At the beginning of the 1960s the number of fruit trees that could be planted was heavily regulated by the rules of the dacha settlement. The aim of this measure was to make the area visually pleasing. Later all these quotas were lifted. The same was true for the size of the plot – if you wanted a bigger plot you could simply buy your neighbor’s land or find another plot somewhere else.

In the 1980s, due to the shortage of goods in stores, farming at dachas became a massive phenomenon. For some it was more necessity then pleasure, as modern farming tools were not readily available. But others took their dacha trials as a hobby. They took pride in inventing something unique for their flowers and vegetables, such as greenhouses or unique water-spraying devices. Still others tried to think of ways to fertilize the ground not just with manure, but other additives. Many unnecessary items from city apartments could easily be turned into useful gadgets for the dacha. For example, if you had too many empty cola bottles you could cut them in half and use the bottom part to protect young plants from cold spring nights.

The harvest was a special pride for many people – some sold their produce, while others gave it away to their neighbors and friends. It was common to share the seeds of rare plants with others. Real fans think about their dacha all year long. In winter they plant tomato, cucumber, pepper and eggplant seeds in small pots that they keep on the window sills of their apartments – and at the beginning of May they re-plant them at their dachas.
Many dacha lovers chose to live on their plots of land. They built good houses with all the necessary facilities, including heating and electrical systems. Having a banya (a small bath house) at your dacha is not a luxury any more. At the beginning of 1990s some Russian “nouveau riches” made “fortresses” out of their dachas. A few even bred exotic animals – like iguanas and crocodiles.

It is said that the dacha is a way of “returning to paradise lost” – a source of temporary harmony away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.