On October 5th, NovaMova students went to the opulent residence of Ukraine's former president Viktor Yanukovych. We saw his car collection, a dog kennel still in use today, and the park itself. But the biggest surprises were inside the Honka residence. What follows is a report of our time there with lots of pictures.
Leaving for the Mezhyhirya Residence
Excursions and tours start from the bench outside NovaMova, and this excursion was no exception. When I walked up, coffee in hand, four were already waiting, collars raised against the morning chill.
Artyom was our guide today. He’s a peer coach at NovaMova.
The peer coach system at NovaMova is a way to improve your language skills outside the classroom. You’re paired with a local, who you meet up with to converse in Russian or Ukrainian. You’ll learn words not in the textbooks as you reinforce what you learned in the classroom.
Once everyone was gathered, we walked to the Zoloti Vorota metro station, where we descended two sets of escalators to the platform (Russian перон).
We rode for 9 stops and arrived at Heroiv Dnipra 25 minutes later. The subway lulls you with its boring reliability. Above ground, so much can happen - accidents, snow and rain. But entering this cavernous underground network simplifies life: Wait for train. Get on. Wait for your stop, get off.
From Heroiv Dnipra to Novi Petrivtsi
We got off at Heroiv Dnipra (Heroes of the Dnieper station). Ryan lives in the area and led the way out. Leaving a station for the first time, I’ll pop up above street level, only to see that I’m on the wrong side of the street. Or, worse - “No idea, who built this thing, anyway?”. Learning the Kyiv subway at first is like being a prairie dog using someone else’s tunnels: you miss your stop or exit a few times, but soon enough learn your way around.
The bus station was a short walk away, and Artyom found our marshrutka (#902), a scuffed yellow bus.
After a short wait, we got on and were off. As the bus followed its route, we watched the city spread out, houses replacing apartment buildings and trees - concrete.
We got off in Novi Petrivtsi (The Yanukovych house location) 30 minutes later. Located on the outskirts of Kyiv, the village has a population of just under 8,000. Wealth extends beyond Mezhyhirya’s walls to the homes we passed; they were well-kept and spacious. We soon reached compound’s five-meter wall, followed by the entrance to the interior.
Passing through the gates, an immaculate park met us. Lush greenery and curving paths circle around ponds, and shrubbery divides and encloses cozy spaces. Brides in white dresses and grooms in dark suits posed for photos, their photographers lugging backpacks and shouting instructions. The entrance fee was 150 UAH/person. You can find more details on fees at http://www.mnp.org.ua/price/?lang=en (the official website of the park).
The territory of the compound is 350 acres, which is a lot of ground to cover on foot. We got on an electric cart (150 UAH/person - $6) and set off to see the grounds.
Thick forest surrounded us on either side as we sped down a winding road. The quiet whine of the electric motor accompanied the wind whipping past, which stung our cheeks with its chill. The clouds kept the temperature fresh but not cold.
Leaving the forest behind, we stopped on the banks of the Kyiv reservoir. The wind drove waves against the shore, bringing up memories of far-away sunlit beaches.
A barge, floated some distance away. In its main hall, where Yanukovych would have received guests, are three chandeliers. Made by Spanish company Mariner, one such chandelier costs more than $90k.
In the couple minutes we had, we looked out over the Kyiv reservoir and walked to the large pond. Trees grow around it, and a path traces around. The landscaping is impeccable.
Yanukovych’s retro-car museum
A short electric-car ride away is Yanukovych's collection of cars and motorcycles. The entrance fee was 50 UAH/person.
The cars, while a cool detour, weren't the main event; that was where we headed next, to the Viktor Yanukovych palace.
Exploring near the Yanukovych Mansion
We left our electric cart behind and thanked Anatoly, who'd driven us around and told us about the compound and some of its history. The next tour wasn’t starting for a while, so we had some time.
First priority was food. We got coffee, tea and sandwiches at a small shop. The food was on the pricey side (100 UAH for a sandwich), but gave us energy for our stroll around the residence.
More brides were in evidence here, posing in front of the plentiful greenery that fills the park.
The back of the house looks down a hill that descends to the shore of the Kyiv reservoir, and now we went to see the giant chairs, seen on the way in.
Having seen enough of the numerous paths, we decided to check out the lower level: the house is partly underground, built on a hill. We'd seen some giant chairs on the way in, and so went to check them out.
The “Honka haus”
Built by Finnish company Honka, the house includes a movie theater, massage rooms (cryo massage, anyone?), and a lot of nice woodwork.
The tour starts outside the admin building where Yanukovych looks out with his golden loaf of bread. The entrance fee to see the mansion was 500 UAH/person - about $20. We stopped in a bowling hall to put on shoe covers, and then followed Yulia, our guide in the Yanukovych mansion.
She pointed out empty space where paintings had been. The most valuable Yanukovych took with him when he fled to Russia, while others are now in museums.
In addition to paintings or the blank spaces where they used to be, we passed through a hall full of bird cages lit by a diffuse skylight.
Above ground, the admin building has no direct connection to the residence. Below ground, a tunnel leads to an elevator under the house, which is how we entered.
Before the tunnel proper, we checked out a salt room - for health purposes, and passed massage rooms to the left and right. The dimly lit tunnel was once an art gallery, but we found it stripped bare: the fleeing president took his most valuables paintings and possessions with him.
Coming out of the tunnel, a thick door guards the air ventilation system for the residence. Being rich and well known brings with it some level of paranoia, and Viktor Yanukovych was no exception; in addition to the filtered air system, the compound houses one of three high-tech food laboratories in Ukraine - a modern food taster for the King, if you will.
“Dude, check out the elevator!”. This humble means of conveyance impressed us more than the luxury objects we’d seen; a big mansion is one thing, but a gold tea kettle or (decked-out) elevator really lets you signal your status. Coming up: comparisons to our apartment buildings' elevators…
Further into the residence, we passed a bar, a dining room, and a movie theater - whose speakers are hidden behind the wall paneling.
The Club House holds many souvenirs from the former president’s hunts; an alligator skin here, hundreds of snakeskins there.
We'd seen enough excess by this point that the rest only added to the pile. Looking down at the living room, I heard "There must be six types of wood in that floor!". The woodwork is beautiful, if you can stop thinking about the corruption that funded it.
The foyer spans two floors, and a grand staircase descends to meet the front door. In the middle is a chandelier, all gold and candles.
Adjoining the bedrooms is a game room, with poker, billiards, and a music box. The latter is a modern example; Yanukovych had an antique that would make any Antiques Roadshow host giddy - e.g. @@@.
Having seen around the second floor, we descended the same stairs we’d passed before.
What to make of the Club House? A beautifully constructed luxury residence. I enjoyed the woodwork and generous windows that filled the rooms with light: the details. But the whole object is depressing when you think about the roads that should have been paved years ago; a “Museum of Corruption”.
Our next stop was the dog kennels, which houses retired working dogs alongside regular pets whose owners want them in good hands while they travel.
We were quite hungry at this point, despite devouring some panini sandwiches earlier.
They asked us to not take photos while we were shown the dogs; the facility is in active use, and houses a variety of dogs. There are retired working dogs, some from one of the Stans - and highly decorated, at that. I shivered at the thought of being one of their targets. Beautiful, muscled dogs.
After seeing the dogs, we walked back to the main gate. Our bus was just leaving, but Artyom hailed it down!
Artyom parted with us at the metro, and we went on to get some chow. Puzata Hata is awesome. You get your trays, and pick a salad, soup (Borscht is always good!), other dishes - meat, dumplings with potato (vareniki) and meat (pelmeni) - and then go to the cash register (каса) to ring it up.
Hot, filling Ukrainian food was the perfect end to our day. Happy and tired, we descended below-ground - homeward bound.
Thanks for reading! Ukraine (and Kyiv) have a lot to see, and this is just a drop in the ocean of cool sights. What would you be interesting in reading about next? Drop us a line on our contact page; questions, comments and feedback are welcome.
Where is the Yanukovych house located?
It’s located in Mezhgorye, Ukraine (GPS coordinates of the residence from Wikipedia: 50.615, 30.474444).
How do I get to Mezhyhirya?
Check out Google Maps directions from the metro to Mezhyhirya for current information.
What’s the correct English spelling of Межигір'я (Mezhyhirya)?
In Ukrainian the residence is called Межигір'я - Mezhyhirya. In Russian, it’s Межигорье - written in English as Mezhygorie or Mezhigorie. If you’re choosing variants, Mezhyhirya is the best choice.
In the same vein, the name of Ukraine’s capital can be spelled Kyiv - from Ukrainian, or Kiev, from Russian.
- Explore the residence in 360-degree panoramas: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/janukowitschs-villa-360-grad-bilder-aus-dem-schlafzimmer-a-957801.html
- The official site of the Mezhyhirya Park: http://www.mnp.org.ua/