Ukrainian Dacha

Dacha is a Russian word for seasonal or year-round second homes often located in the exurbs of Russian and post-Soviet cities [...] Dachas are very common in Russia, and are also widespread in most parts of the former Soviet Union. It is estimated that about 50% of Russian families living in large cities have dachas.

-- Wikipedia

[message type="custom" width="100%"]After being gone for eleven years, I have been back to Ukraine a few times lately and wanted to share some of the good stuff![/message]

You may have heard about this seemingly strange concept prevalent in the former Soviet Union countries. It's not even so much the fact of having a second home - after all, a concept of a vacation home on a lake or in some tropical paradise is not new to the Western world. Rather, it is the fact that these second homes are usually far from being vacation properties. Quite contrary - the original dacha concept involves lots of manual labor day in and day out, whether it is building up a little house piece by piece, trimming the fruit trees, watering the endless rows of vegetables (that is if somehow you were able to get running water) and taking care of whatever else you are trying to grow on your little parcel of land.

That's the Soviet idea of a weekend getaway for ya!

Dachas on Volga river

Maybe it has something to do with escaping the Soviet-style concrete jungle. Or the fact that food has always been expensive and/or in short supply and dachas allowed people to grow their own. Combine that with some of the richest soil in the world (in particular, Ukraine has always been known as the breadbasket of Europe) and it's not hard to see why this was (and still is) the way to spend a weekend for many people.

Dachas Then

Growing up, my grandma had a dacha as well as my aunt and uncle. I remember the happy times of going there and being let loose to pick the berries, fruits, and vegetables.

Me and my sister with Grandma Tamara at her dacha

Auntie Lida with fresh tomatoes at her dacha

My family did not have a dacha but for a couple of years we had a plot of land on outskirts of Kiev where we would go seemingly every weekend from mid spring to early fall. We did not have any fruit trees or berry bushes, but otherwise we had the basics covered - tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchinis, beans, corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, beats, etc. It made me appreciate the taste of real food - something I dearly miss with every trip to Walmart (or even Whole Foods).

Dachas Now

These days, it is trendy for wealthy people to have a full time vacation home outside of the city, more in line with the Western meaning of vacation. Still, the roots of dacha concept are alive and kicking with most people opting for some combination of the two - maybe a nicer house instead of a shack and less potatoes to take care of.

While I was back in Ukraine for the Euro 2012 finals, our family friends invited me to come check out their dacha one of the weekends. It is a good 45 minute drive outside of Kiev and is a good example of the cross-over dacha concept. While they are still growing plenty of fruits and veggies there, they are also building a nice house that they can live in part time.

The new house being built with the old house on the right

While they no longer grow potatoes or corn (potatoes being sold at ~ 50 cents a kilogram/ two pounds at markets), there is plenty of other things along with a few young fruit trees and berry bushes!

View from the porch

Luckily for me, those berry bushes were ripe for picking!

Black currant and gooseberry

Freshly harvested red currant, gooseberry, black currant, and peas

An interesting feature of almost every dacha is teplitsa - a greenhouse:

Teplitsa - a typical greenhouse

Of course, no dacha outing would be complete without a nice refreshing swim at a nearby lake/river/stream after a day of hard work.

A beautiful day at not so beautiful lake

Nor would it be complete without another Soviet tradition...

Shashlyki

Loosely a form of shish kabobs, this Georgian treat is a staple of any outing. Mind you it is not just a few pieces of meat on a stick drizzled with some sauce at your local Krogers. These things are hand-cut and marinated overnight, then always, always prepared over fresh coals.

Prepping the coals for shashlyki - no Kingsford junk!

Usually carved out of pork shoulder, shashlyk is by no means a lean treat but that's not even a consideration.

Shashlyki in progress

And when they are done, the feast ensues!

Shashlyki are ready - bon appetite!

I had a great time partially reconnecting with my childhood and hope you enjoyed coming along. There wasn't any hard labor involved this time around, but I still had the rush of excitement from picking those peas and berries, just as I had twenty years ago.

TraveldimaEurope, Ukraine