Lenin's model village struggling to survive capitalism

SIX years after the Bolshevik Revolution, some of the Soviet Union's foremost intellectuals launched an experimental village, Sokol, as an answer to the dreary, cramped living conditions in war-blighted Moscow.

Now, 15 years after the Soviet collapse, Sokol is under threat - from the pressures of capitalism.

The village was founded with the backing of Vladimir Lenin as the country's first co-operative settlement. Artists and thinkers lived in a meticulously planned, star-shaped village with unpaved streets - all only six miles from the Kremlin.

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The wooden homes and vegetable patches survived Stalin's purges, the Second World War, 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.

But Sokol is again endangered - this time from Russia's new class of multimillionaires.

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

Sokol, founded in 1923, is not immune to the property boom - a 9,000sq ft plot recently went for 800,000. But the mega-rich are more interested in the land than in the quaint homes. Meticulously carved fences are making way for metal walls with security cameras. Extravagant villas now loom over the original low-slung dwellings.

"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 rich aliens - who drive down the recently paved streets in Bentleys - may be the village's best hope of avoiding the even worse fate of seeing their homes replaced by bland apartment towers.

Mikhail Rychagov, who chairs the village council, estimated 60 per cent of Sokol's families have lived in the village for multiple generations. But as those middle-class families come under pressure to sell, Sokol's future 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.

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Natalia 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 regardless of whether the authorities keep that pledge, the village is fast becoming a community of expensive villas - some tasteful and understated, others just plain gaudy.