KONAKOVO, USSR — ELYA and Yevgeni Frolkin are two ``city kids'' who got tired of life in Moscow. So the engineer and the mechanical designer took their little girl and left for the country. ``We wanted to have a piece of land to grow vegetables, to have a house of our own,'' Elya recalls. Now she and her husband, along with another family - all in their 30s - are tending almost 200 cows on a 346 acre farm.
Welcome to the brave new world of private farming, Soviet-style.
Under the reform laws passed in recent years, Soviets can now lease land on a long-term basis to use as their own. Some see this as the prelude to full privatization of land, but others see it as another half measure, frequently sabotaged by the collective-farm system bosses who oppose it.
The Frolkins approached Anatoli Poltorikin, the director of the Soshanski state farm, for a lease, but ``for a long time,'' Yevgeni says, he refused. Then he changed his mind.
``While the TV and radio say directors of Soviet farms interfere with leasing, in our case it's different,'' the mustachioed young man explains over dinner in a tiny dark room of their cottage. ``He does whatever he can to help us.''
The state farm leases the land, provides the cows, the fertilizer, and other supplies and sends over the tractors to till the land used to grow fodder for the cattle.
In return, the farmers are forced to sell all their milk and meat to the state farm, which uses it to help fill its quota.
``We control our own lives,'' says Elya. They have no production quotas to fill.
``If we produce more, we get more money,'' says her husband. But, he adds quickly, we are still ``serfs of the sovkhoz,'' the Soviet state farm. The farm pays them 50 kopecks a liter of milk, but receives one ruble a liter from the state. ``We cannot even sell it to tourists or dacha dwellers,'' Elya complains. ``We have no property. We're getting nothing.''
Their life is certainly no more luxurious than that in Moscow. A blurry picture shows on a small black-and-white television in the corner of their living-dining-bedroom. Outside the door, chickens scratch in the dirt, while goats with matted hair forage in the yard.
State farms ``should die away naturally'' in favor of fully private farming, Yevgeni says, his wife interrupts to forcefully agree.
When the city folks first came, the workers at the state farm viewed them with suspicion. They thought that this was just a clever way to steal a dacha (summer home) in the country.
``Now they feel sorry for us because they see how hard we work,'' Yevgeni says. ``At 4:00, the tractor driver turns off his machine, and I am still working.''
Nonetheless, many workers on the state farm are watching to see how the Frolkins do. ``There are a lot of peasants here who would like to have their own farms,'' says Sergei Permenkov, a smith.
Yevgeni speaks hopefully about buying land outright. ``I told the director it's not reasonable to lease land - he said, `OK, take it.''' He hopes to strike a deal soon. Elya calls him ``a dreamer.''