Once upon a time, the Russian dacha, or country house, was the domain of the wealthy few, those who could afford to escape the grime and grit of Moscow and St. Petersburg for wooded lawns and rural vistas. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s mushrooming business class has poured millions into building lavish second homes, making the highway from Moscow to the surrounding countryside look like the route between New York City and the Hamptons on summery Friday afternoons. Environmentalists fear that the popularity of dachas is endangering the region’s wildlife, as well as its air and water quality: “The last decade and a half have been catastrophic for unspoiled land in Russia,” said Greenpeace’s Guslana Kartyushova. In the last 10 years, some 24,710 acres of forested land surrounding Moscow have been sold, and much of that has been cleared to make room for property. And many of the new homes springing up lack adequate waste systems, so Moscow’s water sources are being contaminated with sewage.
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