We drive towards the north from Kyiv, partly along the Dnipro river, while our guide explains us what we are going to see. We are heading for the Mezhyhirya Palace, which has become a symbol of the corruption of the last pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Its history, however, goes back much further. Until 1786, it was the location of the Savior-Transfiguration Monastery which was set on fire by Russian tsarist Catharina the Great. It was rebuilt, but the Bolsheviks closed it in 1923 and established a college in it. It was used as a summer house by Communist Party leaders, and used as headquarters by Nazi Germans. While still prime minister, Yanukovych acquired one building, and then the entire complex. The cost and funding was never clarified despite efforts to research it, leading to lots of rumours in Ukraine about corruption and excess. It became a symbolic target for Euromaidan protesters in 2013-14. Right after Yanukovych fled Ukraine to seek shelter in Moscow, Ukrainians flooded in to see with their own eyes what had mostly been rumours until then. They must have been shocked by what they saw on the over 140 hectares of land.
After we get out at the entrance of Mezhyhirya Palace, two golf carts are waiting for us. The estate is so big, that it would take too much time to explore on foot. We take one of the roads that leads down to the Dnipro river through some thick forest. We see deer under the autumn colour trees, and then see a galleon. This is one of the many signs of the excesses of Yanukovych. He had the barge built for receptions. Apparently, the interior is lavishly decorated with exquisite wood, crystal, gold leaf, and marble. We see a house for pigeons before we continue our exploration of the former presidential estate. Our next stop is a building in which we see the collection of exclusive cars of Yanukovych. There are some surprisingly small ones, but most are limousines of both Soviet and Western brands. Strangely enough, they all look like new, making us wonder how much they were actually used. When we drive further around the estate, we wonder how it must have been to live here as a president. Is it really possible to enjoy this kind of wealth, luxury, and exclusiveness without ever thinking about the people you are supposed to serve?
We are back to the central area of the estate and get out for a walk. We see lakes with fountains, and see the infamous Honka House, which was built under Yanukovych. It was named after the Finnish designer who built it, and it was squatted by Ukrainians after their president fled in 2014. It is a huge house - unfortunately, it can only be visited on a tour, and the next one will start too late for us. I decide to take one of the trails, which ends in the bushes after a while. I climb over a fence to come to a viewpoint. Under me, the forest stretches out until the banks of the Dnipro river below. Then, I walk past the golf course of the estate, and notice Ukrainian flags at the holes. I also see a white classic car - probably used by newly weds who use the Mezhyhirya Palace estate for their wedding pictures. I see several gardens, and then come to more lakes with buildings housing saunas and hot baths. There is also a zoo, an equestrian club, tennis court, the inevitable hunting grounds, and a church. Shortly after the former president had fled, the oldest existing Ukrainian book was discovered in the palace. Of course - there is also a helicopter pad. This was probably used by Yanukovych to flee Ukraine, even though he pretended to be leaving on official visits to other parts of Ukraine. It apparently took some time for him to realize that the Ukrainian people didn't want him anymore, and his time as a president was really over.
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