When I’m sick of the city, but I don’t want the countryside, I have to break through dimensions and fly far away. Fifty kilometers from Minsk there is just such a place, far from our reality. Everyone is different there. Everything is back to front, sideways and topsy-turvy. It’s not a city or a village, but some third way that isn’t quite clear yet. It’s not easy for a traveler to get used to this place, but you can still try. After all, you don’t visit a parallel world every day!
Around the village there is a ring of hills, forests and fields. There are no towns nearby and no cars can be heard, although the road is clear of snow. Past the “Petrusovschina” sign, an unusual pulsation emanates from the well-groomed houses. The buildings are not rustic, but also not gold palaces. They are simple, neat little houses.
A tall man with a Kurt Cobain hairdo and a well-groomed beard comes to the road, wearing warm boots and a hat with a pompom.
“I’ll tell you how sex, drugs and rock and roll transformed into a quiet village life, vegetarianism and love of nature! It was a metamorphosis, but I’m normal!”
In his earlier days, even he would have called his current lifestyle crazy, but now Vladimir cheerfully walks around the village, a cat staying close beside him, as we talk about what it’s like to live here.
Vladimir moved to Rosi about five years ago. Apart from him, there are twenty families who live here all year round. This is the largest family homestead settlement in Belarus, created on the outskirts of Nalibokskaya Pushcha.
Today there are a lot of similar places across the country. In some, people stay all year round, others only come in the warm season. In general, you will not see anything supernatural here, except that people in these places live with completely different values.
It’s hard to say for sure what unites these people. Some say the only condition for living in a family homestead settlement is to love natural purity. Others are convinced that only the followers of an ambiguous trend or sect settle here, whose name we will not disclose. One of the local residents, Yegor, tried to dissuade us from the latest theory.
“Peculiar people do live in family homesteads; there are several in our settlement. But not all of us are like that. We’re extremely cautious about them ourselves and only contact them when absolutely necessary. We’ve been trying to convey for a long time that the majority of us are perfectly normal people with the right values. I hope this stereotype will eventually go away,” the man said in a telephone conversation.
The same opinion is shared by our companion Vladimir. He assures us that it’s only freedom and the desire to live well that unites them.
“Many do not understand how young, healthy children can stay in villages, when life is all in the city. We are called insane, sectarians, but they can’t really explain it. If you get drunk on drugs and drink around the clock, you’re an ordinary guy, but if you refuse meat and try to live surrounded by nature, a sectarian? I don’t think so.”
“In fact, all sorts of different people live here, it’s not all vegetarians and raw food. One person eats meat and drinks, one builds a house of clay and straw, another buys building materials at the market. For us this is not important. Everyone has their own life.”
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Some locals believe in a mystical lady, roaming naked in the taiga in search of magical trees and miraculous herbs. Others simply look for a healthy environment for themselves and their children. In any case, we did not see anything unusual in the people’s behaviour here.
At the intersection we see several cars and a dozen people in sportswear.
“Oh, our sect is going to volleyball,” Vladimir laughs and waves to his neighbors. “Hello, sectarians!”
“Tell the reporters how we live here!”
“No-o-o! No comments, come on!” the guys are smiling and starting the car.
“Everyone is active, they all do something. Some work from home (the Internet is helping out), some make crafts, some host weddings and corporate parties, and others go to work in Minsk every day. This is hard, of course, but you recover quickly in nature. The main thing is to make it home.”
“We have well-educated children, we give time and energy to them, we teach them English. Every morning the bus takes them to school, and then brings them back. We have long dreamed of building our own school, but so far these are only plans.”
Vladimir leads us through the village and talks about the local houses and their inhabitants. Many cottages are built of straw bales, logs and other eco-materials.
There is even a full-fledged adobe house built with the old technology of straw and clay. True, from the outside it looks quite familiar: the wooden panelling hides the whole structure, which is unusual for Belarus.
“I think one day every Belarusian village will look like this, and it’s great. Living in an ordinary village is completely uncomfortable. You don’t leave the door open there, because local drunks will take everything that is not nailed to the floor. You don’t have a large plot there, you don’t live next to the same enterprising people, who are close in spirit. Our settlement is probably the village of the future. It should serve as an example to others.”
Vladimir used to live in an ordinary Minsk apartment, then he moved to his own house in Kolodishchi. When that was not enough, he broke even further away from the city. He is sure that life in a cottage just outside the Ring Road differs little from the suffering inside it. It still constrains you.
Vladimir is now 44 years old. If he was a military man, in a year he would get a well-deserved rest. As it turns out, here’s how a man of pre-retirement age could look:
Vladimir explains his sharp change of lifestyle simply by saying, “It reached the end”.
“By the age of 29, my serious health problems started: my motor really began to stall. My youth was too turbulent: motorcycles, booze, drugs and rock and roll. We started drinking on Thursday and somehow only stopped by Sunday. And so it was every week. Once we got drunk, and literally got to Cyprus without a penny in our pocket. How, why and for what, I only remember vaguely. Then I realized that it’s time to stop and somehow change my life: it did not bring any new emotions. Everything just went in a circle.”
Vladimir quit drinking and smoking, then gave up meat. He slowed down. For the last two months he has been on a raw food diet and says he is pleased with everything. He has adhered to a healthy lifestyle for 15 years now. He also tried to build his house from environmentally friendly materials.
“I did everything myself, from drawing to interior finishing.”
After many years of construction and renovation, Vladimir was in good shape, and began to advise people on the construction and renovation of cottages. Recently, he started a YouTube channel where he tells an audience of 30,000 about the intricacies of his work.
The man calls his own cottage the “house on a stove” and believes that this type of construction is the best for our region. The essence is very simple: in the center of the room is a wood-burning stove, with the building designed around it. We went to have a to look.
Outside, the house is neat and cozy. The yard is in order, bushes and trees are growing, and a small pond has been dug out.
“This is a usual frame-panel house, insulated with stone wool, joined with chipboard and plastered (I understand that the materials are not the most environmentally friendly, but that’s how it happened). Five years ago, I spent about $35,000 on it, but now the prices are completely different, it’s hard to compare. I bought the plot at auction for about $1500. Back then, there was still enough free land. Now it is almost all built-up.”
“Before we started work, we made a sauna, about 7 × 7 metres. A stove-maker friend made us a wood stove and I realized that it is quite possible to heat a room with just one stove, if everything is done intelligently.”
Inside, the house looks as respectable as outside: panoramic windows, 4.5 metre ceilings, wooden floors and neat trim. In the center of the living room is a huge furnace, Vladimir’s pride. According to him, he only fills it once a day, and only with wood, that’s plenty enough.
To the side of the living room there are two small bedrooms, and on the second floor there is a tiny playroom for children. The house has an area of 90 square meters, with all amenities. The water is heated by the stove: inside there is a metal tank, the temperature of which is kept constant thanks to a regular flow.
“I have been thinking for many years how we can restore the deep life of Belarus, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we should try to use only what is inside the country. There is no gas in Belarus, so it is better not to install gas hot water. Instead, use only wood and electricity. I built my house exactly like this. If there is no way to heat the stove, I’ll turn on the electric heater and do my own thing, no problem.”
“We must somehow develop this idea and try to change our villages. I am sure that one day the village will no longer be associated with something bad.”
“I used to be one of those crazy people who tried to convince everyone that I’m the only one who lives right and everyone simply has to follow my example. With this going on, I had many conflicts with my first wife, who I constantly tried to lead into my own way of life. I only realized later that this was a big mistake. My children want to live differently, and that’s their right, I won’t say a word. If they want to, they will go away to the city forever, but I hope they will decide to return. Please. Yet everyone must decide for themselves how to build their future.”
Author: Dmitry Melehovets
Photos: Maxim Tarnalitsky
First published on 23 February 2018 – https://realt.onliner.by/2018/02/23/derevnya-6