Once upon a time there was a man named Viktor Yanukovych. He says he had a rough childhood in the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine. He spent some time in the slammer for robbery and assault during his teenage years. Then in 2004 he ran for president of Ukraine against Viktor Yushchenko. It was a dirty campaign that involved dioxin poisoning that permanently scarred Yushchenko’s face. Ukrainians took to the Maidan in downtown Kyiv and it was called the Orange Revolution. But Yushchenko wasn’t the man to change Ukraine. Political infighting destroyed whatever might have been gained from the revolution and many Ukrainians became disillusioned. So in 2010 (with a lot of money spent on campaigning), Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine. And that was the beginning of a period of great theft, robbery, and corruption that is hard to fathom or explain in words, so I’ll let the photos do a lot of the talking. The painting and plates with Yanukovych’s head are on display at Ukraine’s National Art Gallery. They were taken from his palatial estate on the outskirts of Kyiv when Yanukovych fled to Russia in February.
And that brings me to the estate: Mezhyhirya (it means between the hills). I’ve been there twice now — once with some friends on a rainy day to simply see the place and this past Friday for a conference on journalism and activism as Ukraine moves forward. I had one of those moments when I was sitting at the conference where the weight of all that has happened over the last 8 months started to sink in — I was sitting in the yacht house of Ukraine’s former president, a residence so well guarded that no journalists were allowed to see it during his days in office (except the intrepid who somehow snuck in) and now the place was crawling with journos who will play such an important role in keeping politicians “honest” as Ukraine moves forward.
Translates phonetically as “fuck” not sure why the sign is there:
For a little less than $2 you can enter the estate and stroll the vast grounds. You can also get driven around in a golf cart for about $7 a person. The estate is currently being guarded by members of the self defense forces from the Maidan. I spoke with one of the guards who refused to give his name because his children are in Russia. He claimed they want the place to be turned into a national park and that currently all money from admissions is going to upkeep the vast estate and zoo. On my first trip we took the golf cart tour. Our guide, a man from Kyiv who said he never knew the place existed before Yanukovych fled, told us he loves giving tours here because of the nature. He pointed out certain areas and would say “those trees are meant to represent Crimea” or “these woods represent the Carpathian mountains.” Cue sarcasm, maybe Yanukovych was a bit of a Ukrainian patriot after all?
Ice cream stands now dot the whole estate:
Oh, did I mention the massive lake?
Every president deserves fresh milk:
And why not have a pirate ship floating restaurant?
For me, the estate is a testament to the peaceful revolution that took place (until Yanukovych cracked down and killed many). As soon as he fled, self defense forces secured the estate and Ukrainians came to look at it peacefully — no mass looting as we’ve seen from so many recent revolutions around the world. There are rumors that some pieces were stolen from inside the many houses on the estate, but for the most part, it was an orderly process of making sure the estate was kept as it was and that the paintings and other gaudy artifacts would make it to a museum for all to see.
Ah yes, the chalet built by a Finnish firm apparently:
All buildings are sealed on the estate but you can still press your nose up against the windows and get a peak inside:
There was only one small section at the National Gallery of Ukrainian art that Yanukovych had at his estate (where he lived with his mistress). Everything else was a strange mix of Versailles gaudy and tacky. The Ukrainian art:
Definitely not Ukrainian art:
Boxes and boxes from Hermes:
Appears the man was somewhat religious with all the icons he had:
Following such gaudy, great theft, civil society activists are keeping close watch on Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko. You can read the piece I wrote on corruption and what civil society activists are thinking now. It was a busy week for me, I also wrote a piece about the ongoing information war between Russia and Ukraine and a team of journalists and academics in Kyiv who are working to combat it.
I believe this is a portrait of a another minister’s wife (not his mistress):
The docent told me that this was how the painting arrived at the museum. She said people didn’t steal things at the estate, but some were so angry about the recent killings of protesters and seeing the estate in all it’s stolen grandeur that this was a natural human reaction:
Ah yes, the Grecian ruins section:
Glassed in hot tub:
Poor, poor taste in art:
The museum on the estate to all of his cars. He also had his own gas station:
Did I mention the zoo?
Note the high fence in the background:
This estate will remain a testament to the period in Ukrainian history and politics between 2010 – 2014 when a lot was stolen and when the people stood up and called for change.