Ataman: artificially created village of the Cossacks in Kuban

Potemkin village for state employees, where some have built houses, others are working or are "resting," in the Cossack village by force
23.09.2017
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On the Taman peninsula, alongside the Kerch Strait, the Cossack village of Potemkin has been operating for its eighth year already. It was built from scratch, in the hope that it would become a kind of attraction for tourists. Mikhail Shubin went to "Ataman" and investigated how the project is developing, which was slated to become one of the most visited and lucrative tourist places in the south of Russia.


The Cossack village Chief stands on a hill, to which a dirt road leads. In its eight years of existence an asphalt road has not been laid. Instead, the ground is cracked, covered here and there with dried grass. The only way to enter the  recreated Cossacks village is through the main entrance, the perimeter is surrounded by a thin lattice.

Only a few amount of people are here this Sunday. The vast territory of the town, 68 hectares, seems almost empty. A huge wasteland without grass, is te so called Maidan (an area for meetings. - Ed.). Forty four motley flags surround the area as the city and municipal districts of Krasnodar Territory. Each flag represents a house in which Cossacks lived.

It’s hot and not far from the entrance there is a cart with a horse. A few meters away from here there are two ponies. They barely move their heads because of the tight rope around their neck. Near to one of them a ten year old Cossack woman squats on her haunches. She is wearing a red shirt and a black cap. Sovkom collects horse dung in a plastic flower pot saying, "Uhh. Again they pooped! ", He grumbles.

Next to the cart are two Cossacks with charred faces. These are the only men in Cossack dress in the entire complex. They reluctantly say that they live in Taman, and they themselves came from the Cossacks. One round on the cart around the whole complex is 800 rubles. The same trip on a pony is 1000.

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Entrance to the Cossack village, photo - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

The first hut visitors meet is chief’s house, assigned to Krasnodar. As the workers of the complex said, "the capital of the region is the main hut." A whitewashed house, a thatched roof, and a rusty horseshoe hangs over the doors. In the corridor there is a Cossack uniform, in the kitchen there is a stove with papier-mache bread. On the table is a bottle of moonshine. On the walls family photos of Cossacks and their families  are hung. The only impression that you are in a traditional Cossack ld house is broken by a huge doll in a cradle, a glowing "exit" sign at the door and a "Spotykach" label on a bottle.

"The chief should be an example for everyone. The most worthy were invited to the stanitsa board. He was offered to become the chief three times. They said “Be our father!.” Twice he refused, thereby showing that he was not eager for power, maybe you will find a more worthy person. He agreed only after the third time. Then he was led to a special shop, for flogging. The chief was laid on this bench and beaten with a whip. They really beat him, so that the chief, who would later impose a punishment on the Cossacks, knew with what severity he had been punished, and he felt it himself. After that, he got up, and his face and head were covered with mud. This was shown to him: "Yes, you are the chief, you are more important than all of us, but you are a Cossack like everyone else, do not be conceited." After that he turned to the crowd, bowed to them and said: "Thank you, brothers, that you taught me!", the guide said in the sarafan.

"Our governors and mayors need to smear mud  and beat themselves with a whip. But they are somehow very far from the people,” a woman says. People approve of this earnestly.

The Built by Whole Region

“The Chief” began to be built in the summer of 2009 in the necropolis of the Hermonassa - Tmutarakan hillfort in the village of Taman. The very Tmutarakani, which in Russian is associated with unknown edges. 

The idea to create a reconstruction of the Cossack village came from the Governor of the Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev. "The new Kuban village will become not only a unique historical monument. This will be a commercial project and for the province the Azov-City gambling complex developed for the Azov coast,” said Governor of the Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev.

Officially, the Cossack village is called the State Autonomous Cultural Institution of the Krasnodar Territory Exhibition Complex Ataman. It was founded by the ministry of resorts and tourism and the region’s department of property relations.

The 68 hectares  open-air museum was rebuilt in just 40 days. The Cossack village was built practically by the whole region, as each municipality and district built its own huts.

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Entrance to the hut, photo - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

Officials have not disclosed how much has been spent on the project. It is a field with economic and park zones, according to the state contract and was built in 2011 for 11.5 million rubles. According to the publication, some municipalities spent up to 2 million rubles to build their own huts. In total, according to the representatives of the complex, there are about fifty mini-museums in the Cossack village. Thus, only the themed buildings cost 100 million rubles.

Earlier, the director of Atamani, Aleksey Cherny, told in the interview to DG-SOH that private investors were also apart of the project.

Each hut is an authentic late XVIII - early XIX century Cossack dwelling. "Someone brought clothes, some photographs of family - so, in general, the huts are furnish," Galina, the caretaker of one of the galleries said (the name was changed at the request of the employee.) - Ed.). The workers are not compensated for any expenses.

Loss and secrecy

Natalia Gezik, the director of the ethnographic complex, sits at a large table, set with a variety of souvenirs. Her phone rings unceasingly. Gezik took her position a little over a year ago. During the whole existence of the complex, six leaders have been replaced replaced in.

Most questions, for example are about financing, which she dismisses with the phrase "This is an incorrect question." She did not answer questions about how much Atamani allocates from the regional budget or how much the complex earned during the high season? Gezik says that he can not say this, because he does not consider it necessary.

According to data posted on the website bus.gov.ru,  Ataman received government subsidies of 17 million rubles in 2016. The income of the institution in the same year amounted to almost 45 million rubles. The total budget for 2016 is 61.7 million rubles. Expenses for the same period were 70 million rubles. In general, despite the ambitions of the ex-governor, for eight years the project has not become profitable and has not even reached self-sufficiency yet.

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Horseback riding - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

"We are given state assignments and a certain amount of money is allocated for these state assignments. Of course, budgetary money is not enough. But the complex earns enough money to keep itself at this stage, which is there. Of course, we would very much like to develop, but we do not earn the amount for development,” the director said.

“Yes, I would like to build ‘residential’ huts, and even make a hotel, so people can stay in the village for a couple of days. Yes, most likely, we will create an investment project to build a complex with the help of ‘public-private partnerships.’ he said.

The Inner world of Atamani

The horse harness’ master has his own compound. To the right of the door on the chair is an elderly woman in a dress. She rubs her knitting needles in her hands. In the backyard are beds with tomatoes and zucchini. 

"Do you have tomatoes?" a woman says as she approaches her. 

"No, look in the garden," she replies to the one with the spokes.

"Yes, the mother does not want to eat small ones, give her big ones!," the first complains.

Half of Atamani’s caretakers live in the village for the whole working season - from April to November. Salaries, according to one of the supervisors, are small, 10 thousand rubles a month. Basically, all caretakers are pensioners, so "life is enough together with a pension."

"For us, then, the garden is everything. I live here, so I got up early at six in the morning, ran to ten and here I sat down. I'll sit up to six, I'll run to the hose again before nine. The district built my house this year. We live here, approximately fifty on fifty. We work here a lot, because we live here, we open up early and mostly people come to us. If we did not agree to work for ten hours, we would not be kept here,” Svetlana says, continuing to knit her knitting needles (the name was changed at the request of the employee.) - Ed.).

For winter, all museum exhibits from Atamani were transported to the municipalities so that they would not deteriorate because of the humidity. After all, the farmsteads have to be repaired annually because of the humid climate and strong winds from the sea. From December to March, only the guards remain on duty at the open-air museum.

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Museum exposition, photo - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

There are cleanly weeded beds with tomatoes, cabbage, horseradish and zucchini. There is a braided fence on which a fishing net was laid. Behind the fence is the courtyard of the "initial land," then they told how the wedding ceremony was held by the Cossacks. Under the canopy, behind the curtains is a table. Behind it sit actors in Cossack clothes. An open conversation can be heard.

"Yes we are all retired here. For a month we earn 10,000 , but they are not paying. I do not even look at how much they put me, "the female voice says.

"Yes, I'm here almost every day, not like that - two in two," another echoed her.

"Two months for twenty thousand. Ten and ten a month. I would raise a bunch! " a man's voice says. 

"Do not!" The female voice tells him.

"Everyone is silent," continues the man.

"In the car we go, and all the mouths are closed, no one says anything. Well, do not you, so do not! "- Says another female voice.

"Yes, long ago there is no collective that was! There is no collective! " says the woman.

A group with a guide approaches the "ignorant land." The actors throw food and go out to the guests. Lined up on the porch, they sing.

Women in sarafans stand with rather sour faces, some of them barely open their mouths. Only two men and one woman are working. About twenty tourists happily clap and smile. Take pictures on the phones.

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Thematic songs, photo - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

To the left of the yard is a herd of plastic geese. On the right is hay, next to which the plastic horses are grazed.

"Oh, my sweetheart, I'll bring a pittance," a man with gray mustaches says in bloomers.

"Prida, princesses, my dear, good!" the team picks up.

The performance of the artists takes fifteen minutes.

"The musical team has been working in Atamani since 2009. The staff is very small, close-knit. In total there are nine of us, one of them is a native Cossack. We are very fond of this and that's what moves us. Were you at our concert? Did you see the reciprocity? Well. In the first years of our existence, there were up to 300 spectators and up to 400 people. Read reviews, we have feedback from around the world. And from Africa, and from Germany, and from France," says Sergei, from under the hats of his gray hair.

There are indeed review books  in every courtyard. In one of them, two reviews are "Bulk 2018. Vote for Navalny." After it it: "Thank you for the inexpressible sensations. We are for Putin! "

The salary according to the team members, is paid to them from the Ministry of Culture of the Krasnodar Territory. Hearing the question of whether they have wage problems, actor Sergei demonstratively and sharply raises his voice: "It's all lies! Do not believe it! With a salary we all are well!" The man screams and leaves.

There are wage problems with landowners. But unlike members of the musical collective, who whisper and complain about low earnings, some workers of the complex are not paid at all. According to Svetlana, one of the caretakers in the nearest hut has never been paid for this season.

Natalia Gezik, director of the ethnographic complex, commented on the non-payment of salaries: "Yes, these are the municipalities that [have not paid them], and the fact is that I have never been in contact with the districts as far as possible and I did not notice such special complaints."

Festives for the governor

The new governor of the Krasnodar region Veniamin Kondratiev comes to one of the largest festivals. On the eve of his arrival, a general review is held. Everyone is checked and tidied up, "so that the Governor's eye rejoices," says the caretaker Svetlana.

On the same holidays every municipality forcibly makes state employees attend. Two sources close to the administrations of different cities confirmed this information to a Russiangate correspondent.

"When I was doing an operation last year, I was in a hospital in Krasnodar. And she started talking with the doctors. They already howled. Uh-uh! This Ataman! Yes, she needs it! They drive him there!" Svetlana says.

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Photographs and household items museum workers collected for their own archives, © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

Employees of municipalities and caretakers cover holiday tables for festivals. Pies, bread, lard, dumplings, home-brew, all this, according to Svetlana, the budget workers prepare themselves and are taken out of the house. The city administration does not allocate money for this.

"People also somehow reimburse themselves. A samogonki stack is 50 rubles. Well, strained. Groaning! And Che, the administration told them to go to Ataman. All of them. This is not disputed," the woman said.

But the festival company, according to the cashiers, earns more 6 million rubles from just ticket sales alone, with a ticket price of 400 and 200 rubles for adults and children, respectively. On the same day, there are only a few visitors according to the director, for the whole of last year there were 170,000 visitors.

Officially, Ataman won only one state contract for the event, in May 2017 the complex received 2.58 million rubles for the celebration of the "Day of Russia".

On the territory of Atamani there is a small market with souvenirs. Hats and souvenir whips are on sale starting from a thousand rubles.

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Museum exposition, photo - © Russiangate / Mikhail Shubin

Souvenirs documented also appeared only this year. For example, umbrellas and barbecues are always bought from the same supplier, the individual entrepreneur Olga Gorokhova. In total, Gorokhova has won six contracts from Atamani for 2.1 million rubles. At the same time, souvenir T-shirts and bandanas are bought from another private entrepreneur, Elena Grzhivach, who won four contracts for 1.4 million rubles.

The song "Kalina" by the honored artist of Ukraine Natalka Karpa is played. On the other side of the shore Crimea can be seen.

Opposite the improvised zoo, where in the small chambers behind the bars the animals - chickens, rabbits and peacocks are languishing, lies a clay tiger. In the courtyards are frozen clay Cossacks, next to which are photographed by tourists. In each coach, there is a Cossack doll or Cossacks from cotton wool.

The supervisor with pride says: "People come. They say that I have visited my grandmother. Last year I was sitting - a girl came out and cried. She said I remembered my grandmother. "

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