Let’s be honest.
Most of us wonder how presidents, kings, queens or other rulers live. I know I do. If the White House were suddenly available, I would pour myself a glass of presidential wine, and have a seat in the White House living room. Perhaps I would take a ride on Air Force One, the president’s airplane. Live large, as we say!
This is easier to do when the leader of your country is forced to flee a revolution. Just ask Ukrainians. When Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, Ukrainians were finally able to see the lap of luxury in which the former president lived.
Before we tell you more about the property where he once lived, you will need some adjectives, words like opulent, extravagant, palatial and luxurious. Those words even sound expensive!
More than six months has passed since Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. But the new Ukrainian government has yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to visitors. And they have refused to turn it over to the government.
Ukrainians were shocked when protesters in February forced open the entrance to Mezhigirya (mih-zhi-GEAR-ee-uh), Mr. Yanukovych's private residence. The property is opulent, luxurious and estimated to be worth over one billion U.S. dollars. Such a high estimate only proves what many Ukrainians believed all along – that their country’s leaders were corrupt.
Some Ukrainians still do not trust government officials. The man still controlling the estate is commandant Denis Tarahkotelyk. He refuses to surrender the property over to the government.
He says two conditions must be met. First, the officials would need to take inventory, meaning recording details of everything on the grounds. Second is the appraisal, knowing what everything is worth. That way, he says, if something goes missing they will know who is responsible.
Some criticize the groups now in control of Mezhigirya. But interested Ukrainians and wedding parties keep arriving. In fact, since August, they are coming by the boatload.
But it is not just interest in the former president or parties that bring people to the estate.
One of Ukraine’s earliest monasteries once occupied the grounds. Because of the religious importance many feel that the property should be kept as a national park.
Henadiy works as a guide with Smile Tours.
“It is important for tourism because it gives a patriotic and religious education to people. Not only to Ukrainians but also because it started the spreading of our orthodox faith.”
The grounds now have a world-class training center for bomb-sniffing and attack dogs. Other once private areas are now open to the public. They include a golf course, a private zoo, and an orchard filled with fruit trees.
A Ukrainian woman named Tamara says opening the estate to the public is a good educational tool.
Tamara says the community should decide how the grounds are used. She adds that if the estate remains a tourist attraction, the cost of admission may have to go up. She says that $2 per person is not enough money to pay the cost of operating the estate through the cold winter months.
Those controlling the once closed-off residence agree it should eventually become a museum exploring the issue of corruption.
Some of them, like Denis Tarahkotelyk, say they even plan to fight corruption by entering politics.
But even after negotiating physical control, officials in Ukraine will have an international legal case because much of the estate was owned through western companies.
I’m Anna Matteo.
*VOA's Daniel Schearf reports this story from Mezhigirya. Anna Matteo wrote for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.
Words in this Story
estate – (n.) all of the things that a person owns; a large piece of land with a large house on it
opulent – (adj.) very comfortable and very expensive
extravagant – (adj.) very expensive and not necessary
palatial – (adj.) very large and impressive; like a palace
luxurious – (adj.) very comfortable and expensive; richly appealing
inventory - (n.) a complete list of the things that are in a place
appraisal - (n.) the act of judging the value, condition, or importance of something