A visit to the house of Ukraine’s former president Yanukovych
With the success of the Maidan square protests in Feb 2014, President Yanukovych beat a hasty retreat to friendlier pastures with the aid of a Russian helicopter from his property on the outskirts of Kiev (or Kyiv as the Ukrainians would prefer to the russianised version we are familiar with). The citizens of Kyiv immediately jumped at the opportunity to find out for themselves if the rumours of the opulence of his Mezhyhiriya residence were true. What they found was a shrine to corruption on a grand scale.
Despite the house and its lavish, manicured grounds, complete with golf course and numerous fountains, originally being government property and the President only earning $2000 a month, he neatly allowed it to fall into his own hands via the help of a number of shell companies which lead back to that great home of dictatorial wealth:London. Over the course of his reign the main house you see above was built, along with a host of “improvements” to the estate. Certainly getting there proved an easy task as he had kindly diverted funds for the Euro 2012 developments to build a nice new road.
The actual status of the property remains a bit of a mystery due to the complex financial arrangements behind it but certainly the surrounding parklands are open to the public and very popular with wedding parties, if the day I was there was anything to go by, but getting into the house is shrouded in uncertainty. Although a few small posters giving a telephone number for enquiries about a tour can be found it is rarely replied to and even if you get through you have to speak Ukrainian (097 2878874 if you fancy a go).
Others had reported getting in on a tour run by former staff at 2pm, and indeed a side door at the annexe, Fok building was briefly opened by a man dressed in a patriotic outfit and I and a small group of dictatorship aficionados shuffled in. Obviously my mastery of the Ukrainian language doesn’t go far beyond vital tasks such as ordering a beer so the salient points of the tour guide’s pronouncements were beyond me, though the buildings contents spoke for themselves and often each new room provoked chuckles and gasps at yet another variant of absurd excess.
The linguistic limitations were insufficient to disguise the guide’s surly demeanour and maybe had something to do with the Right Sector insignia he was wearing. This somewhat controversial organisation is an umbrella group for a variety of individuals ranging from dedicated patriots to violent, fascist thugs (the latter being the sole description if you follow Russian news) who were instrumental in opposing the Yanukovych regime once the opportunity to engage in cracking heads and chucking molotov cocktails represented itself.
Sometimes its the little details amongst the grandeur that display the priorities of people with too much power and a gold waste bin in the toilet of any ruler is all you need to know that this was a man who didn’t give a flying fuck about the people. It is also typical of the attention to detail that was expended, not one room exhibits a hint of decorative modesty, except perhaps the boiler room, ironically it was the boiler that failed during one of Ukraine’s bitter winters leaving Yanukovych shivering in his ermine for a while.
The inclusion of a private chapel (see pic above with the guide) with its modern take on Orthodox bling, could prompt one to ask him, “have you actually read the bible”? Somehow he didn’t see a hint of contradiction between his living with a mistress in luxury extorted from the common people, with Christian values.
As dictator’s homes go it lacks some of the crass tackiness of his competitors such as Saddam Hussain or Gadaffi but is more inspired by the pomp and ceremony of medieval kings but with all the hi-tech accoutrements of a playboy’s pad: tanning salon, massage room, flat screens measured in hectares and a table top barbecue with a huge glass tube extractor. Judging by the wear on the leather armchairs in the cinema room with its tonnage of carved wood paneling he spent more time here than anywhere else – such is the demanding life of a dictator!
The living room comes complete with a Steinway, John Lennon limited edition piano and a statue of General Custer on the mantlepiece!
Every floor is either ornate marble, complex parquetry or sumptuous rugs.
Even the ceilings are not spared any lack of detail.
All the fittings exude a dedication to uninhibited budgeting. Grandfather clocks, mosaics, carvings, oil paintings, sculptures and the like litter every room.
And, of course chandeliers. This delightful number was a bargain for the Ukrainian tax payers at a mere $100 000.
It wasn’t all loafing around though as the well equipped gym demonstrates, which was accompanied by a bowling alley and an indoor court for ball games. Housed in the annexe, a underground tunnel links it to the main house around 200m away.
To get to the bathrooms you had to walk through a “wardrobe” big enough to house a family and once inside there were enough gold fitting to keep the cleaners polishing for a week.
Naturally every dictator loves a golden shower!
Even the lifts had no expense spared.
Some of the guest rooms were specially themed, including this crystal walled cavern.
Finally, just what everyone wants in their hallway, a stuffed lion!
Suggestions have been made that Yanukovych could make a come back if the situation under the present government doesn’t improve but I would suggest that there is enough evidence here to make him unwelcome in Ukraine for an eternity.