Shocking opulence revealed as Ukraine leader flees home

2014-02-23 19:15
(Genya Savilov, AFP)

(Genya Savilov, AFP)

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Kiev - A vast country estate, marble-lined mansions, a private golf course and zoo: the unimaginable luxury of the private residence of departed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was flung open on Saturday for all to see.

As parliament voted to oust Yanukovych after he fled to a pro-Russian bastion in east Ukraine following months of bloody protest against his rule, thousands of Ukrainians wandered awestruck around the breathtaking luxury of his abandoned property about 15km from Kiev, after it was taken by demonstrators.

"I am in shock," said retired military servicewoman Natalia Rudenko, as she looked out over the manicured lawns studded with statues of rabbits and deers.

"In a country with so much poverty how can one person have so much - he has to be mentally sick.

"The world needs to see this and bring him to justice."

Cars backed up for kilometres and a large crowd lined up patiently at the imposing wrought iron front gates to get a glimpse of the former leader's lavish lifestyle, fit for even the most ostentatious billionaire oligarch.

"Don't worry, everyone will get to go inside - it is big enough for all of you," an opposition activist standing atop a column shouted through a loudhailer. He warned people to stay off the lawn in case of landmines and to beware of provocateurs trying to damage the place.

"Welcome to Ukraine," he said as people shuffled by.

Guarded just hours before by elite security forces, the property - the scale of which had been kept a closely guarded secret and appears to confirm suspicions of titanic corruption - was now under the control of anti-Yanukovych activists, patrolling the area and keeping people out of buildings to avoid looting.

According to official declarations, Yanukovych's salary as president was around $100 000 a year. The luxury of the estate clearly showed wealth far beyond that.

At the entrance a sign was hung reading: "People, do not destroy this evidence of thieving arrogance."

Inside, visitors peered with disbelief through the windows of the palatial main house at the baroque, marble-covered living rooms decorated with gold icons and suits of armour.

A few boxes strewn around on the marble floors hinted at a hurried exit.

Amused or enraged, others posed for photos in font of towering faux-Greek columns and snapped pictures on their mobile phones of the collection of rare pheasants imported from as far as Mongolia and Sumatra.

In a hangar-like barn, families stopped to pet the goats, deer and sheep kept in pens lining the leader's private zoo. Nearby, peacocks strutted around inside cages.

For kilometres, visitors strolled along the waterfront promenade, up to the helicopter pad or over bridges and past horse paddocks to a vast garage housing a museum of Soviet military vehicles.

The complex for staff - who were nowhere to be seen - was itself the size of a British stately home.

'Pirate ship'

"I want a pirate ship like this for myself," five-year old Ross declared to his mother as she led him around the edge of a floating banquet hall built to look like an Elizabethan galleon.

"Don't worry, we've already seized this one," his mother Katya Ivanova replied.

Some of the visitors were still fresh from the violent clashes that left scores dead this week and saw central Kiev turned into a war zone.

"It makes it feel even more worth it," said Bogdan Panchyshin, a hardware store owner from the Western city of Lvov.

"If only the hundred people who died could see it, I think they'd say the same," he said, still wearing a camouflage bullet proof vest.

As they emerged, people struggled to take in the breathtaking scale of Yanukovych's wealth.

"That house, that garden, that luxury," mechanic Viktor Kovalchuk, 59, as his wife shook her head in amazement.

"It should be turned into a hospital or an orphanage or something for the people killed or injured in the protests," Kovalchuk said.

"Whatever happens it needs to be given to the people. It was built with our money after all so it should serve us in the end."

Read more on:    viktor yanukovych  |  ukraine
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