How a developer started an eco settlement in East Belarus. By Georgy Novik.
Hi! My name is Georgy Novik, I’m a back-end developer at Skyeng. My job is to add utility to our CRM system and implement cool features for customer service like bots for tech support and robocall solutions.
As many other developers, I can work from anywhere. I could go to live on Bali or work from a coworking or never leave my couch. But I chose a quite different option — I moved to a farm in Belarus*. Well, it’s not exactly a farm like in the US, but you get the idea. Now I live 80 miles away from the nearest coworking.
*Belarus is a country in Eastern Europe with the population of about 9 million people. The capital city is Minsk.
At some point, I dropped out and went back to the country. I worked as a horse riding instructor and a hiking guide. But after some time time I felt I needed to finally get my diploma. I returned to the city to finish my studies. At that time I also started to work at ScienceSoft. They offered me 10 times more than I was making as an instructor.
But soon I realized that big city life was not for me. I didn’t enjoy living in a rented apartment and eating supermarket food. My schedule was tight, I had little to no free time. I longed to have my own place. In Belarus, many people move to the country and start eco settlements. And it’s actually not a crazy idea, it’s quite rational.
I wanted to be away from a big city, and my wife wanted a horse. We put all the pieces of the puzzle together — moving to the country was the perfect solution. We started saving up money to buy a car and build a house. Our next step was to find a place to settle and like-minded people to join us.
We were looking for a place in the woods with enough pasture for the horses. We also hoped to have neighbors so there had to be some extra space. And the land had to be away from highways or any industrial facility. It turned out to be rather tricky to find a place that would match this description. Some options were not as ecologically clean as we wanted, others had documents problems. In Belarus, many villages are turned into non-residential areas as people move away be cities.
It took us several years to find a place. One day we saw an ad — a house in Eastern Belarus for sale. It just felt right. The house was located in a small village called Ulesie, two-hour drive away from Minsk. As many other villages, this one was dying out.
The place was perfect — a lake nearby, woodlands for many miles around, wild grass fields. We met a neighbor, an elderly man, who told us we would fit in just fine.
We bought a patch of land with an old house. The house itself was quite small but well-built. My initial plan was to repaint it and do a couple of fixes, but I got into the process and renovated the whole house.
We got all the paperwork done, packed our stuff and the cat and moved in. For the first couple of months we had to live in a tent inside the house — the renovation was still in progress. Then I built stables and bought five horses — our dream came true. It didn’t even cost us an arm and a leg — in the country everything is cheaper.
In the best-case scenario, I wake up around 5 or 6 am, do my programming job for about four hours and then work with the horses or fix something around the house. In the summer, I sometimes prefer to work on the computer in the afternoon, when it’s hot, and leave mornings and evenings for the housework.
Usually, I work in my study in the attic. It’s very quiet here so I can concentrate.
My internet router has a good coverage — about 12 acres around the house so I can work outside on the porch or even somewhere in the field.
Even when I’m working in the stables or on the construction, I’m still available — my phone is with me at all times.
There were some locals in our village, but we wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people. So we listed our settlement in a catalogue. That was the beginning of the eco settlement Ulesie.
Most of our new neighbours have a business in a big city. I’m the only one who works from home. We are still settling but everyone has ideas on how to improve our village. We don’t come here just for the summer. For example, we have our own produce — berries and dried mushrooms.
The village is surrounded by woods that are full of wild berries and herbs like rosebay willowherb — we use it to make tea. We would like to take advantage of these resources — not only collect the berries and herbs for our own use but to have a small production. We want to build a dryer and sell them to eco shops in the city.
We live far away from any big city, but we are not isolated. In Belarus, medical care, postal and police service and food delivery are provided even in the middle of nowhere.
- School. Our village is very small so it doesn’t have a school — a school bus takes kids to the nearest one. Our neighbours say it’s quite decent. Some drive their kids to school. Other kids are homeschooled but they still have some classes in the city.
- Post. The postal service works like a dream — I just call them and they come to the village to deliver my post or get my package. It costs almost nothing.
- Food delivery. A mobile store comes to the village every now and then. It has all the staple, basic food. For special cravings, we can always drive to the city.
- Medical care. We have no problems with medical care. Our son was born here, and for the first several months after his birth a doctor would come every week. Then we got visits every month and now, when our son is 3.5, a doctor just visits occasionally. We begged the doctors not to come so often but they insisted — they have standards of care for children and the elderly.
Urgent care is also available. Once one of our neighbours got stung by wasps. The doctors arrived immediately and took care of him.
Growing up, I had everything city kids did not — horse rides, hiking and camping trips. As I was growing older, I realized that those things made me a person I am now. So I wanted other kids to have this experience. That is how I got an idea of a horse riding summer camp.
This summer we had the first visitors.
We also hiked in the Berezinsky national park — it’s not far away from Ulesie.
The atmosphere was very homie — we cooked for the kids, looked after them all together, had dinner at one big table. I hope we’ll do the camp regularly.
I make quite good money even for Minsk — so it’s more than enough for a village. We don’t eat out in expensive restaurants and produce 40% of our food ourselves. So we mostly spend money on construction.
As our settlement is very new everyone is building something. We have a time bank — one day I help my neighbour, then he helps me. The equipment is also shared — recently we borrowed a tractor from our priest.
When it comes to community activities, we work together too. For example, everyone helped with building the infrastructure for the camp.
Some time ago we planted a community orchard — several hundreds trees. Later everyone will collect fruit.
Locals think we are freaks, but they don’t mind. Sometimes we ask them to help with construction — that’s extra money for them. This summer, we made hay together with the locals — many of them were ready to help.
Family life in the village is a real challenge — don’t say that I didn’t warn you. In the city, you don’t see the person you live with for most part of the day. If a problem comes up, it’s easy to hide away from it — in the office, restaurant or club. You have your own lives outside of your couple. But in the country, you’re together 24/7. So you have to learn how to cooperate and build a strong connection. It’s a kind of a test — if you cannot be with your husband or wife all the time, maybe that’s the wrong person.
P.S. We took over our village — there’s no land left. So we have plans to expand to the nearest one. Three families are already working on the land there. We want more people to join us — so if you’re interested, join our community in VK (https://vk.com/ulesie_rp).
Or just come by — I’ll teach you how to ride.