Leevaku Village is located in Põlva County, in Räpina Rural Municipality. Leevaku Village covers an area of 12.30 km2 (4.62 % of the total area of Räpina Rural Municipality). According to the Rural Municipality register there are 162 people living in the village (as of 1 August 2012). Thirty-nine households are in use all year round (as of 2006).
According to legend, the name of the village comes from those times when ash-filled coal boxes (Estonian: leevakk) were used for fetching burning coal from ones neighbours when the fire had gone down. The first written record of Leevaku dates back to 1582, when the name was spelt ‘Liewaka’. In 1738, there were ten farm households in Leevaku. During the decades following the passing of the law freeing the Livonian peasants in 1819, people started to buy the farms in Leevaku. According to the data from 1915, there were 63 of these farms bought for the exclusive use of their new owners, whereas the average size of a farm was 37 hectares.
Many know Leevaku thanks to a poem called “Järvesuu poiste brigaad” (Brigade of the Järvesuu Boys) by Juhan Smuul. The poem describes the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Komsomol as a rush job. But it is known that the first water-operated mill was built in Leevaku more than a hundred years earlier – in 1835. In 1893, there were already flour mills and sawmills in operation. Also, it was possible to tease wool. In the textile factory, overcoat cloth and blankets were weaved for the Russian army in the 1880s. When in the summer of 1905 two-shift work was introduced in the factories, the number of workers reached 45. In 1910, the industrial undertaking started to produce its own electricity. Starting in 1917, the electricity was also sold to the farms and to the Toolamaa manor house. Leevaku became one of the area’s most important industrial centres alongside Räpina. It was the location of the Toolamaa Rural Municipality community centre, and in 1867 a village school was opened. Private song society “Edasi” started its activities in Leevaku in 1917; the group was later named the Leevaku Song and Play Society. From 1922 to 1940 there was a library society in Leevaku that had its own public library, choir and theatre group. In the 1930s, Estonia’s best export butter was produced in the Leevaku Milk Society. The Peat Society supplied heating to farms, companies in Leevaku and Räpina, excluding the Paper Factory that used coal for that purpose.
One of the most significant entrepreneurs throughout the history of Leevaku was Artur Reinomägi, who, at the beginning of the 1920s, started brick production in Leevaku. Production was unfortunately soon halted since the local clay was unsuitable for use as a raw material in brick production. Yet, one of the symbols of Leevaku dates back to the time of the brick factory – the high brick stack with the year 1923 and initials AR on it. In 1931, the production and mill farm of Leevaku got a new owner – Voldemar Tamman, with co-owners being Karl Eduard Sööt and Theodor Lauri. Tamman’s publishing house issued the Leevaku calendar. One of the founders of the dairy farm and peat production was Eduard Peedosk, who was appointed as the main custodian of the Leevaku factories in 1942. In 1944, the buildings were destroyed in a fire. Leevaku was also not left unscathed by World War II. When Soviet forces reached the Võhandu River in the summer of 1944, Leevaku’s mill, factory and mill farm buildings caught fire. The result was the complete destruction of industry in Leevaku. The annexing of the Republic of Estonia by the Soviet Union brought about new perspectives, and the reconstruction of the hydroelectric power plant of Leevaku in 1947 became the first rush job of the Komsomol in the ESSR. Construction was started by the County Union of the Võrumaa Agricultural Societies and its patron was the communist youth organisation. Paul Haavaoks, who later became a poet, was amongst the builders. The reconstruction of the power plant was also named Komsomol construction, where the farms of Leevaku and neighbouring rural municipalities were to send builders by horses and on foot, bringing their own work tools and lunch packs. Writer Juhan Smuul described the construction of the power plant in his poem “Järvesuu poiste brigaad” (the Brigade of Järvesuu Boys), which was read as compulsory literature in schools for many decades. The plant started operating on 5 November 1947, and produced electricity until 1968. The building was later used as a school museum and gymnasium. Since 1992, the owner of the hydroelectric power plant has been AS Generaator, and electricity is once again being produced in Leevaku. In 1948, a collective farm bearing the name Komsomol was established in Leevaku. In 1958, it was added to the Ruusa state farm. The Ruusa state farm department was located in Leevaku, where animal husbandry buildings – pig pens, milk sheds and young animal sheds – were constructed. All animals from farm sheds were collected together in the sheds of the Leevaku state farm. In 1975, a dairy farm was built for 300 cows. In total there were 700 cows at the Leevaku state farm. Concentrating production in such a manner generated the need for employees. Between 1960 and 1984, six apartment blocks with forty apartments were built in Leevaku. In connection with the restoration of Estonia’s independence, ownership and agricultural reforms were taken up in 1991, during which land and the shares of the state farm property were returned to the legal successors of the owners of the farms in 1940. The Ruusa state farm stopped its activities on 1 May 1993. After the collective farm was closed, the biggest company active in agriculture was AS Leevaku. Farms with an average size of 15 hectares were formed, but most of these had stopped their activities by 2004. At the present time farm land has been rented out to bigger companies active in agriculture. Dairy farming continues in Leevaku, in the former dairy and young animal sheds. The former state farm has been reconstructed and is now operated by a woodworking company.
In 1993, Leevaku Basic School was turned into a four-class primary school, which was closed in 2001. The building now houses the village centre, library and Internet access point. There is a Põlva Tarbijate Ühistu shop located in Leevaku. The village society was established in 2001, and in 2009 the NGO Leevakk was established. The aim of these societies is to promote local village life.
The people living in Leevaku find the symbols of the village to be the hydroelectric power plant, built on the Võhandu River, and the stack towering above the village. This has also inspired the slogan of the village: “Küla jõe ja korstna vahel” (“The village between the river and the stack”). The Leevaku hydroelectric power plant is open to visitors from 11.00 to 14.00 during the summer. It is possible to view the work of the generators, inspect the electricity gauges and read a short history of the village presented on stands by the walls.
Behind the hydroelectric power plant there is a path to a recreational area where one can put up a tent, go for a swim or hike downstream along the hiking track. A one of a kind sight is the only remaining part of the brick factory, or the Leevaku stack, which is the only object reminding us of the high times of the factory that produced brick, pottery and tile pots. A sauna has been built at the foot of the stack and, in a joking manner, it can be said that it is the sauna with the biggest chimney in Estonia and possibly the entire world.