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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Rich Threaten Sokol Village

APA view of Sokol, a tranquil 80-year-old settlement of 113 low-slung homes that is the last remnant of country life amid the high-rise apartments in Moscow.
Six years after the Bolshevik Revolution, some of the young Soviet Union's foremost intellectuals built an ambitious experimental village as an answer to the dreary, cramped living conditions in the war-blighted capital.

Now Sokol is under threat from the pressures of capitalism.

The village was founded with the backing of Vladimir Lenin as the country's first cooperative settlement. Artists and thinkers populated a meticulously planned, star-shaped village with unpaved streets -- all just 10 kilometers from the Kremlin.

Their wooden homes, vegetable patches and backyard geese survived Stalin's purges, World War II, a tornado, and numerous attempts to raze them. Today, the village is the capital's last oasis of tranquil rural life amid the chaos of a city on the move.

Sokol is again endangered -- this time from Russia's new class of multi-millionaires.

Property is being snapped up in Moscow at such a frenzied pace that the capital this year was rated the world's most-expensive city.

Sokol, founded in 1923, is not immune to the property boom. But the mega-rich are more interested in its land than in its quaint wooden homes.

Meticulously carved wooden fences are making way for metal walls with security cameras. Extravagant villas now loom over the original low-slung dwellings.

"Right away, it's huge fences, intercoms, security cameras ... big dogs," said Marina Faydysh, an artist who has lived in Sokol since her birth in 1946. "They're aliens."

But in an irony lost on few Sokolites, those fabulously wealthy aliens -- who ride down the village's recently paved streets in Bentleys -- may be the village's best hope for being spared the even more ignoble fate: seeing their homes replaced by bland apartment towers.

"They built homes of their own here, and I think they'll fight for those homes," said Mikhail Rychagov, the chairman of the village council, who said a 1,000-square-meter plot recently went for $1.5 million.

Yet he acknowledged, Sokol won't be the same: "It's a double-edged sword."

Rychagov estimated that 60 percent of Sokol's families have lived in the village for multiple generations. But as those lower middle-class families come under pressure to sell, Sokol's future as a village of creaky wooden houses is increasingly in doubt.

"A person making $100 a month can't live in a house worth several million, by definition," said a real-estate magnate who bought up two adjacent plots in Sokol in 2000 and now refuses to let himself be identified because he's had enough publicity already.

"Moscow is an eclectic city, and our village is eclectic," he went on. "I don't know if this is good or bad, but with time, it won't be like that any more."

Among Sokol's planners were Alexei Shchusev, the architect who later designed Lenin's mausoleum, and Pavel Florensky, a renowned theologian and artist. In 1979, the village became an official monument to Soviet-era town planning.


Mikhail Metzel / AP

Sokol's aging residents see a new threat: Russia's new class of millionaires.

But despite its rich cultural traditions, residents say they've lived in perpetual fear of being evicted.

The precedent on everyone's mind now is Butovo -- a well-situated village on the outskirts of Moscow that a court decided belonged to the local government, which planned to build high-rise apartment blocks there.

In June, Butovo residents were dragged from their homes by riot police, as old women holding religious icons shrieked on the sidelines.

"I think there'll be a very big war here," Rychagov said.

Natalya Maximova, the head of a regional office that oversees building, said the government would not touch Sokol until 2020, when its designation as an architectural landmark expires.

But Rychagov said he could not get the same guarantee from another official.

Regardless of whether the local authorities keep their pledge not to disturb Sokol, the village is fast becoming a community of expensive villas -- some tasteful and understated, others gaudy.

Rychagov was resigned to that fate. "Russia is also changing. If 20 years ago Russia was Soviet, now it's capitalist, or something like that," Rychagov said.

But old-time Sokol residents still rely on Soviet-style services: To this day many home repairs are provided by the village council. Aging Sokolites now see capitalism taking over the old system in their village, just as it already has in the metropolis that surrounds them.

"Of course, with time this will be a bandits' neighborhood, an elite neighborhood," Faydysh said.