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A Peek into Wonderland

What has happened to Mezhygorie, the infamously opulent estate of former President Victor Yanukovych, since he fled the country three years ago? 

2 May 2017

Former President Viktor Yanukovych hastily left his estate, Mezhygorie, just north of Kyiv, in the middle of the night on 22 February 2014. Three years have passed since then, but the legal status of the president-in-exile’s residence has still not been resolved.

 

Officially, the entire Mezhygorie property was seized in the summer of 2015, but it is only now that investigators from the General Procurator’s office have concluded their report of the residence. Experts must now assess the property’s worth, which sits on 140 hectares (345 acres) of land. It includes an enormous golf course, a zoo, greenhouses, and even a state-of-the-art laboratory.

 

 

Viktor Yanukovych lived in the wooden residence known as “Honka.” It is a multi-story house, lined with expensive furniture and antique religious icons. The main hall features a rare white piano, which gathered dust for three years until Lysenko Music School students put on a concert there in March 2017.

 

 

 

 

The food, water, and even the air that Yanukovych breathed at Mezhygorie was studied in a technologically sophisticated laboratory. Each instrument in the lab costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and only a few such laboratories exist in Europe. But Ukrainian scientists cannot use it, because it is also in state custody.

 

 

 

Viktor Yanukovych’s diet mostly consisted of vegetables that were grown in the estate’s greenhouses. Much of the premises needs to be modernized and renovated, because after three years, many components are past their prime.

 

 

 

Near the greenhouses is the zoo, famous for its ostriches. The brood recently grew a little larger, with the addition of some newly hatched ostriches. But, aside from them, the zoo houses other animals like antelopes, llamas, donkeys, and even rare peacocks.

 

The residence is also famous for its automobile collection park. Seven motorcycles and 35 retro cars are stored there – for example, a 2009 ZiL, one of three in the world. The other two can be found in Vladimir Putin’s Moscow garage, and in Astana with Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of Kazakhstan. Yanukovych owned the third. Most of the vehicles, including a 1938 Audi, are also seized property and their value has not been established yet.

 

 

The official owner of Yanukovych’s former residence is a company called Tantalit, in which parliament member Sergei Klyuev is involved. He is the brother of Andrei Klyuev, former head of Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration. Since 22 February 2014, Euromaidan activist Denis Tarakhkotelik (pictured below) has been overseeing the premises. He was one of the first to enter the territory of Mezhygorie after Yanukovych’s exit from office.

 

 

“When I got past the fourth checkpoint, I met with the head of the UGO (Department of State Security),” Tarakhkotelik recalls. “He was the only one left there from the whole department. He had dismissed the rest of the security officers, who left the property with their weapons in tow. Next to him stood the head of a private security firm, a driver, and a security guard. Just four people. I walked in with my brother, unarmed, to find out what the situation was on the territory. Because at the central checkpoint, they had said that the whole area was mined, which the UGO head refuted. Then I asked if they understood that people are about to start entering, not just the territory, but everywhere. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say there’s nothing he can do – he doesn’t have any orders.”  

 

 

Today, Mezhygorie is open to the public, although there is an entrance fee. Legally, the fee is a “charitable contribution” toward the maintenance of the property, explains Tarakhkotelik.

 

“Our main source of income is the ticket office at the central checkpoint. Around 95 percent of the funding for Mezhygorie’s upkeep is from people coming here on a day off and donating 20-50 hryvnias ($1-$2), but soon we’ll have to raise the fee,” Tarakhkotelik says, adding that the government does not provide any funding for the maintenance of the residence.

 

The ex-president’s property is guarded by former members of self-defense forces and fighters from a specialized subdivision of the Ministry of the Interior and the National Guard. The latter two structures are legally there to maintain social order. Around 200 people work at Mezhygorie.

 

“If the residency were designated as an official state business, its maintenance would require around 50 million hryvnias annually ($1.8 million),” says Tarakhkotelik. “The laboratory alone could earn that much for Mezhygorie, and earn approximately the same sum for the government.”

 

Over the last three years, Mezhygorie has accumulated several problems. First is the issue of a landslide near the observation deck. The second is that the Honka residence and the gym complex need renovation, Tarakhkotelik acknowledges.

 

“The courts have to make a decision about the property, so that it can belong to the government,” he says. “That way, we can create a state enterprise with the participation of society – so that the community itself can manage the park, and the state apparatus can manage the community. So, the government won’t be able to steal everything, and the people won’t make mistakes. It’s an absolutely reasonable idea then, I think, to make Mezhygorie a national park ... But before that can happen, we need to properly maintain it, so that when it is absorbed by the government, it won’t be in worse condition than it was under Yanukovych, but in even better condition. 

Aleksandr Popenko and Dmitry Replianchuk are Ukrainian journalists working for Hromadske. The original version of this article, in Russian, was published on Hromadske, an internet TV and multimedia organization created in 2013. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission. Translated by Anna Bisikalo. 

 

All images courtesy of Aleksandr Popenko/Hromadske. 

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