Secrecy surrounds Ukrainian president's home

Associated Press
In this photo taken Friday, June 24, 2011, during a tour organized by the Ukrainian Presidential press-service, President Viktor Yanukovych, right, talks to journalists he's invited to see his official residence called Mezhygirya, outside Kiev, Ukraine. But his critics point to strong evidence he actually lives in a different more luxurious building. (AP Photo/Mykhailo Markiv, Presidential Press Service)
.

View gallery

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — When Ukraine's president opened up his home to TV cameras, he presented a cozy place with a small office just big enough for his grandchildren to play in. But his critics point to strong evidence he actually lives in very different digs: a luxurious, marble-columned mansion with a golf course, a helipad and even an ostrich enclosure.

The reported grandeur is becoming a campaign issue in a country quickly getting fed up with widespread corruption. Critics call Viktor Yanukovych's home an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines his presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his main political opponent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is locked up in prison on charges the West has called politically motivated.

Yanukovych has refused to answer questions about the house or the vast park where it sits, once darkly suggesting that an investigative journalist back off. An opposition activist looking for answers broke into the property James Bond-style, scaling the walls with a tow rope. She was detained, but still managed to salvage photographs of a golf course and glitzy buildings, describing an opulent palace guarded by heavy security.

Political commentator Vitaly Portnikov, who has compared Yanukovych's government to a "mafia" jeopardizing Ukraine's desire for greater integration with the European Union, cited Yanukovych's clandestine residence as an example of the corruption and lack of transparency unacceptable in the West.

"Viktor Yanukovych's main goal is not to be the president of Ukraine but to be the No. 1 oligarch in Ukraine," said Portnikov. "He fought for power ... specifically in order to consolidate in his hands a huge amount of resources and property, in order to make his family the first family in the country."

The two main opposition parties are likely to gain ground in Sunday's parliamentary election. But with the pro-Western opposition's charismatic leader in jail and a lack of unity among government critics, the president's Party of Regions is expected to retain its majority in Parliament.

Yanukovych, who returned to power in 2010 after a period out of office, maintains a strong core of support, especially in the Russian-leaning east and south of the country, claiming credit for bringing stability after years of paralyzing political infighting and economic free-fall.

But his democracy and reform record is poor. TV channels, the main source of information for Ukrainians, are controlled by tycoons loyal to the government and they give little airtime to the opposition. Investors complain of being stripped of their companies through unfair legal action brought by government-friendly businessmen. And Ukrainians are angry over perks and unfair treatment for VIPs: Officials and their friends routinely run red lights or avoid traffic by driving the wrong way. In one case that sparked national protests, two of three suspects in the brutal gang rape and murder of a teenage girl were initially released — because of their connections to local officials, activists say.

Yanukovych's home is in Mezhygirya park, 140 hectares (345 acres) of forested hills situated along the Dnipro River, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Kiev, the capital. Founded decades ago on the ashes of an Orthodox Christian monastery, the park included a government residence for top Communist Party bosses like Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and is off limits to the public.

Through a series of controversial government acts, Yanukovych was able to privatize a modest house on a 1.8-hectare (4.4-acre) plot of land inside the park. After that, two firms were allowed to lease the park from the government for 49 years. They demolished most of the Soviet-era buildings, including the government residence, and began construction of new houses and sports clubs.

Yanukovych has refused to say who is behind the two firms, but his critics have no doubts.

Mezhygirya is "a symbol of the president's inappropriate desire for luxury, the unknown source of his wealth and the desire to hide it all behind dummy firms," said Serhiy Leshchenko, a journalist with the Ukrainska Pravda news site whose investigation has linked the two firms to Yanukovych and his family.

Seeking to counter criticism, Yanukovych invited six trusted journalists to Mezhygirya in the summer of 2011 and gave them a tour of his official house. He led the men into his bedroom, where an Orthodox Christian icon stood on a bedside table, and then his small office, where he lets his grandchildren play while he works. He also showed them a fireplace in the living room he said he had to abandon because a family of owls had settled inside.

But ownership documents for the two firms uncovered by Leshchenko link them to Yanukovych and his allies and bolster claims that he controls the entire estate. Aerial photos taken by the Korrespondent weekly magazine show that the property appears to be one entity, complete with a giant mansion, fruit and vegetable greenhouses and an array of sports facilities. Journalists who have tried to get into the park or even a nearby village have been stopped by government security agents.

Investigative journalist Tetyana Chernovil scaled the 5-meter (16.5-foot) fence with a rope and a wooden plank, spending about three hours inside before getting caught by security guards with barking dogs. She was able to see the ostriches and photograph the golf club, a large barge made of rare red wood and plated with gold, and other buildings, before being released after several hours of questioning.

Chernovil, who is running for parliament on the opposition ticket, questions the source of all this luxury given that Yanukovych's official annual salary is about $115,000 a year. She is infuriated at the lavish spending in a country where some rural schools still have no indoor plumbing.

When "small kids are forced to run to the toilet outside in the winter, how can a president allow himself to . build these helicopter pads, which only he needs, which no one else uses?," she asked.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Melania Trump stuns in first lady fashion stakes

      First Lady Melania Trump stunned fashion watchers by donning a sleek, off-the-shoulder cream dress with a daring thigh-high slit to dance with President Donald Trump at the inaugural balls. The new first lady's sartorial picks for the inauguration went some way to silencing critics who have complained in the past that she favored high-end European clothes rather than American creations.

      AFP
    • ESPN drops commentator over Venus Williams 'gorilla' remark

      US broadcaster ESPN has dropped commentator Doug Adler after he compared Venus Williams to a "gorilla" at the Australian Open -- although he insisted the word he used was "guerrilla". ESPN said Adler should have been more careful during his coverage of the seven-time Grand Slam-winner's win over Stefanie Voegele. "During an Australian Open stream on ESPN3, Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection," an ESPN statement said.

      AFP
    • Charges: Cop left out gun that girl, 8, used to kill herself

      STRATFORD, N.J. (AP) — A police officer left his personal .357-caliber revolver loaded and unsecured on a shelf before his 8-year-old daughter fatally shot herself, prosecutors said Friday as they announced criminal charges against him.

      Associated Press
    • Bell & Blount's friendship transcends abrupt exit

      PITTSBURGH (AP) — The football player and friend in Le'Veon Bell understood why LeGarrette Blount walked off the job that cold night in Nashville more than two years ago, jogging to the locker room with the clock still running as Bell and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers reveled in a critical victory over Tennessee.

      Associated Press
    • 'NCIS: Los Angeles' star Miguel Ferrer dies at 61

      NEW YORK (AP) — Miguel Ferrer, who brought stern authority to his featured role on CBS' hit "NCIS: Los Angeles" and, before that, to NBC crime drama "Crossing Jordan," has died.

      Associated Press
    • Animal Shelter Offers $11,200 Reward After Rottweiler Is Found With Ears, Nose and Tail Cut Off

      "Baron is doing remarkably well considering his injuries," a veterinarian reported.

      Inside Edition
    • One of the largest icebergs ever seen is even closer to breaking off Antarctica

      Just 6.4 miles of ice are holding an iceberg the size of Delaware onto the floating Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, and scientists warn it could cleave off the ice-bound continent at any time. Researchers who closely monitor the crack cutting across this particular Antarctic ice shelf reported on Thursday that it continued to make rapid progress, expanding another six miles in just the past two weeks.  SEE ALSO: An iceberg the size of Delaware is about to break off Antarctica This means that a collapse may be imminent, at which point, one of the top 10 largest icebergs ever observed will break away into the turbulent seas off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.  Scientists affiliated with a group that has been tracking the ice melt in this area, known as Project MIDAS, say the iceberg could measure 5,000 square kilometers, or 1,930 square miles. The rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, including the 6-mile extension in the past two weeks. Image: Project midas/nasa Scientists are worried that the calving event — which refers to the breaking off of the iceberg from the ice shelf — could speed up the disintegration of the broader shelf and land-based ice that lies behind it. "When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula," researcher Adrian Luckman wrote in a blog post.  "We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was prior to the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbor Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event," Luckman wrote. Larsen B Ice Shelf prior to the breakup in 2002. Image: NASA Larsen B Ice Shelf after its breakup in 2002. Image: nasa The researchers found that the rift which had been progressing episodically across the floating ice shelf suddenly grew by 11.2 miles, or 18 kilometers, during the second half of December, leaving only 12.4 miles left connecting the iceberg to its parent ice shelf.  On Thursday, that length declined to 6.4 miles of ice remaining fully intact, which puts the ice shelf in an even more tenuous position.  Scientists are not sure exactly when the iceberg will break free, but they think it will occur soon.  The length and width of the crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf over time. Image: Project midas "We expect that the iceberg will break free within the next few months, although it's hard to be certain about timing," Martin O'Leary, a researcher at Swansea University in the U.K. who studies the Larsen C Ice Shelf as part of the MIDAS team, told Mashable in an email on Jan. 6. Rifts like this are a natural phenomenon, but such large ones are rare, scientists say. They can destabilize larger parts of ice shelves and land-based ice sheets by exposing more ice to mild ocean waters and air temperatures. This has been happening in parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, but it is not guaranteed to happen with Larsen C. The Larsen C Ice Shelf is the most northerly of the remaining major Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves. This part of Antarctica has been warming rapidly in recent years, and the shelf is being undermined from below by warming ocean waters, as well as from above by increasing air temperatures.  View is of a rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf from our airborne survey of polar ice: https://t.co/VgjxopHHLI @NASA_ICE pic.twitter.com/gt5mpHqbxn — NASA (@NASA) December 3, 2016 In 2002, Larsen C's neighbor, known as the Larsen B Ice Shelf, disintegrated entirely after a series of similar rift-induced calving events. The Larsen B calving event was featured in the opening scenes of the sci-fi climate change-related disaster film, The Day After Tomorrow . Sea level rise implications Floating ice shelves don't raise sea levels when they disintegrate or lose large icebergs. This is because their ice is already resting in the ocean, like an ice cube in a glass.  However, because they act like doorstops to the land-based ice behind them, when the shelves give way, the land-based glaciers can start sliding into the sea in a process that's difficult (if not impossible) to stop, long-term. It adds new water to the ocean — therefore, increasing sea levels.  The entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by another 10 to 15 feet if it were all to melt. This process would likely take centuries, however, though sea level rise is already accelerating worldwide as glaciers melt and ocean temperatures increase. BONUS: 2016 was Earth's warmest year on record, continuing a three-year streak

      Mashable
    • Grown-up Paris Jackson hits her namesake city for Givenchy

      PARIS (AP) — Colorful fall-winter menswear shows in Paris mixed high culture, androgyny and streetwear, as Paris Jackson, the daughter of the late pop icon Michael Jackson, stepped out for the cameras at Givenchy's library show— fittingly in the City of Light.

      Associated Press
    • 4 Financial Fears About Retirement, And How to Overcome Them

      Because of all these future unknowns, it's not uncommon to develop a healthy -- for the most part -- fear about retirement. Whether it's fear that the money won't last, that Social Security won't be there or that one's health will deteriorate, concerns can drive savers into unnecessary or unsafe investment vehicles. "You might have someone come in, totally risk averse," says Greg Stevens, a financial planner at Cabot Wealth Management in Salem, Massachusetts.

      U.S.News & World Report
    • VIDEO: Barron Trump plays peek-a-boo with 10-month-old nephew

      Barron Trump plays peek-a-boo with Ivanka Trump's 10-month-old son, Theodore James Kushner.

      WPVI – Philadelphia
    • Is There a Hidden Meaning Behind Melania Trump's Tiffany & Co. Inauguration Gift?

      On Friday morning during the traditional welcoming to the White House of the incoming president and first lady by the outgoing president and first lady before the inauguration, Melania Trump presented Michelle Obama with a gift from Tiffany & Co.

      Yahoo Style
    • Here are Trump’s first Presidential Tweets

      Donald J. Trump is now President Donald J. Trump, and with great power comes control of the @POTUS Twitter handle. But so far, Trump has decided to stick to his personal account, and has chosen to tweet out his inaugural message in 140-character form from @realdonaldtrump. In a series of tweets published from his personal account shortly after the inaugural speech, Trump summarized his popular message for anyone not following the livestream: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822501803615014918 https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822501939267141634 https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822502135233384448 https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822502270503972872   https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/822502601304526848 As some people have already pointed out , part of that speech lined up a little too closely with Bane's speech from the end of  Dark Knight Rises . Social media teams have already transitioned websites and social media accounts to the new administration. Trump's policies are now up on the White House website , including an "America First" energy plan, "America First" foreign policy, and "Trade Deals that Work for All Americans." Notably, there's no section on climate change one way or another, although reports that Trump has already "scrubbed all traces of climate change" from the White House website are misleading, as all of the previous administration's policies have been deleted as a matter of course. All of the previous administration's tweets have been deleted from the official @POTUS account, which is currently empty. All of President Obama's tweets have been archived at @Potus44, which is the same procedure used for all the official administration accounts.

      BGR News
    • Texas court grants appeal after 35 years without conviction

      DALLAS (AP) — A Texas inmate who was imprisoned for 35 years while waiting for a new trial after a court overturned his murder conviction should be set free, an appellate court ruled.

      Associated Press
    • Prosecutor: 'Dance Mom' should be imprisoned for fraud

      PITTSBURGH (AP) — A prosecutor on Friday urged a federal judge to sentence "Dance Moms" star Abby Lee Miller to prison instead of probation for bankruptcy fraud.

      Associated Press
    • Roger Federer floors Berdych in 90 minutes at Australian Open

      Swiss marvel Roger Federer blitzed long-time rival Tomas Berdych in straight sets to storm into the fourth round with a vintage performance at the Australian Open on Friday. The 17-time Grand Slam champion, seeded 17th after an injury-hit 2016, downed the 10th-seeded Czech 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, in just 90 minutes. Federer reached the round of 16 in Melbourne for the 15th time where he will face Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori.

      AFP
    • Here’s a look at the Fashion Moments of the Inauguration

      America's first immigrant First Lady since Louisa Adams paid homage to the old guard of American fashion in a powder blue suit by Ralph Lauren Collection.

      Elle Videos
    • New Documents Show Bin Laden Was Paranoid About Biological Trackers

      The declassified documents, seized by the Navy Seals team responsible for killing Osama in 2011, include letters to family, expense account entries, and Bin Laden's observations on world events.

      International Business Times
    • AP PHOTOS: Long-married Bushes hospitalized together

      Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, have been married for 72 years — longer than any U.S. presidential couple.

      Associated Press
    • Alleged NYC Bucket of Gold Thief Arrested In Ecuador

      Julio Nivelo took authorities on a months-long search that spanned two continents.

      Inside Edition
    • Analysis: Trump speech shows America getting what it ordered

      WASHINGTON (AP) — America is getting what it ordered on Election Day.

      Associated Press