Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Now, You too Can Visit a Communist Utopia

YALTA, Ukraine - Anyone who has pondered the possibility of a socialist Utopia need wonder no more. The gates to communist paradise are now open.


They lead directly to Dacha No. 1 and Dacha No. 2 at Nizhnaya Oreanda, the luxurious compound near Yalta that was built for the Soviet Union's top leaders.


Perched in the hills above the Black Sea and nestled among Crimean pines and elaborate rose gardens. Dacha No. 1 has housed every Soviet leader since Nikita Khrushchev and Dacha No. 2 has hosted such honored visitors as former East German President Erich Honecker and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu.


They have been mostly vacant since 1991, when Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev decided to leave the site and build a new dacha in nearby Foros.


The dachas were recently opened to a group of foreign journalists and airline executives for a tour arranged by Networld, Inc. , an American travel firm that is promoting the adjacent Nizhnaya Oreanda sanatorium as a vacation resort.


The tour made clear that, when providing for their own needs, the Soviet leaders did not skimp.


The 60-acre compound, which accommodates a mere 12 people, boasts an enclosed swimming pool whose sliding doors allow it to be converted into an outdoor pool, thanks to the work of engineers at the MiG factory where the structure was built. A cafe bar is tucked under the hillside outside the pool; a little further along the shore is an outdoor movie theater for only four people.


The beach, like other Crimean resorts, is rock rather than sand, an unfortunate fact the Soviets could do little to change. But, interfering with Mother Nature was not out of the question. After a storm washed away Gorbachev's private beach, 20 bus-loads of soldiers were brought in to haul the rocks back, according to the compound's supervisor, Vladimir, who declined to give his last name.


When "Person No. 1" was in residence, usually for one month a year, the warship "Crimea" was docked at one of the cement piers that punctuate the beach.


For further security, eight submarines were permanently stationed in the waters in front of the compound, Vladimir said. Pleasure boats cruising around Yalta, a mere two miles away, were prohibited from going within 800 meters of the shore.


Built in 1956, the two limestone dachas have spacious living rooms and six suites for guests. Though large - each bathroom is 16 square meters - the rooms are surprisingly plain. The only "decorations" in the living room of Dacha No. 1 were Lego pieces on the coffee table. They were left by the grandchildren of the president of TavrINKO, the company that now manages the compound.


The only notable fact about the furnishings is their size, which suggests that Brezhnev, who personally ordered many of the chairs in Dacha No. 1, was serious about being sedentary. The indoor movie theater is furnished with six double-wide brown velvet armchairs and a wooden lounge chair made for Brezhnev in Yugoslavia.


The compound is full of lore, much of which concerns Raisa Gorbachev, apparently not a favorite of the staff. According to Vladimir, the former first lady insisted that female employees had to be dressed conservatively, covered from neck to ankle at all times.


Thereafter, Mrs. Gorbachev was behind the decision to build the dacha at Foros, where the Gorbachevs were later confined during the attempted coup in 1991. The story has it that she never liked Dacha No. 1 and was enraged when a piece of the building's gable fell and struck her daughter. The daughter was not injured seriously, but her mother was convinced it was not an accident, Vladimir said.


Shortly after the incident, the head of the Crimean KGB was fired, along with eight other top-ranking members of the organization and the Gorbachevs began plans for the new dacha, Vladimir said.


After the Gorbachevs moved out, the staff of 94 employees stayed on at the Nizhnaya Oreanda compound.


TavrINKO, which Vladimir said operates 20 factories and oil refineries in Russia and Ukraine, offered to manage the compound when the collapse of the Soviet Union dried up funding for the dachas, Vladimir said, adding that it is costing 25 million karbovancev (about $7, 500) a year to operate.


Once the renovation is completed in Dacha No. 2, the firm may rent suites for $125 a night, Vladimir said. Some 29 people still work in the security bunker underground by the compound entrance, monitoring movements. Vladimir did not say precisely what they are listening for. But when asked if the dacha's rooms had telephones, he answered, "Yes, yes, and the walls too".


Tomorrow: How to vacation at the Communist's most luxurious Crimean resort.