Inside the Opulent Life of a Corrupt Ukrainian President
As with most parts of the former USSR, Ukraine is a country fraught with corruption and the curse of powerful oligarchs who control much of its economy. In 2010 Victor Yanukovych was elected to lead the country forward, building his campaign on bold promises of transparency and economic reform. But during the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, his presidential residence was stormed by protesters and it was discovered that he had in fact been swindling more state money than anyone before him.
Yanukovych fled the country and you can now tour the entire estate just north of Kiev called Mezhyhirya (Meze-guri-ya). Although it has been the official residence of all Ukranian presidents since 1935, shortly after becoming president, Yanukovych claimed the estate as his own, in his words paying a “very serious price” for it. Yes Mr President, I’m sure you did. He then proceeded to redevelop the 350 acre property, now valued in the £100s of millions, in lavish opulent luxury. It’s a bit like David Cameron buying up 10 downing street and then filling it with furniture made of gold from the bank of England. Hard to fathom.
I joined the tour of the grounds and the main house. Unfortunately, I missed the underground collection of classic cars, the life size pirate ship, the zoo, the ostrich farm, the heliport and the aviation museum. Yes, that’s right, he had his own museum. Of actual aeroplanes.
Walking around this Oligarch’s playground you are constantly flabbergasted by the pure excess. When a ‘nice wooden floor’ is not good enough, why not source a piece of wood from every region in the world to create a mosaic with? I mean, you won’t be able to tell they were from around the world of course, but it will a make great dinner party icebreaker!
Or perhaps you really love those children’s music boxes that played nursery rhymes? Then why not fly in a master watchmaker from Switzerland to build you an incredibly intricate ‘grown up’ version with clockwork drums, a walnut cabinet and five different songe to play, all for a cool £350,000. Yes that was five songs, meaning a cool £70,000 per tune. What a bargain!
There is not a corner of the place that is not covered in gold, sculpted in walnut or carved from marble. And everywhere you go there are cages with colourful birds chirping away. You really can’t help but think this guy was actually insane.
The whole estate once had 2,000 staff and cost £3 million a month to maintain. To put that into perspective, the whole British Royal family and all of their estates (allegedly) costs the same. Yet in Ukraine the average wage is 20 times lower than the UK and 80% of the population live below the poverty line.
Having recently toured Buckingham palace state rooms, it was interesting to compare the royal residence with this self appointed ‘King of Ukraine’. Buckingham palace is obviously far richer in history and tradition, with Rembrant and Van Dyck hanging on the walls rather than kitch oil paintings of the president driving rally cars (honestly) and his daughters doing ballet. The president’s palace felt more like one man’s mission to see how much money he could spend in the shortest amount of time, with very little understanding of taste and refinement. Think “Bruce’s millions”, but in this case “Yanukovych’s billions”!
This got me thinking. Just because Buckingham palace has tradition and (some might argue) taste on its side, is there really that much difference between our Royal Family and Mr Yanukovych. The British royal family got their riches through slavery, exploitation of the commonwealth. Essentially it’s all stolen too. Does the fact they were born into royalty and therefore doing what was expected of them make a difference? I don’t see why it should. I think the fact that it’s all in the past and as a country we like the romantic idea of royalty, has much more to do with why we think of it so differently.
Whatever your views on the Royal family, one thing we can can be sure of is that man has an incredible ability to convince himself that he is worthy of incredible riches, while those around him suffer with little to nothing. Well that, and that money doesn’t buy taste!