On adventure with a speaker: Daria Kaleniuk & Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center
May 6, 2015
Last week I had a chance to join fellow TEDxVilnius speaker Daria Kaleniuk for an adventure. Daria leads Anti-corruption Action Center in Ukraine and did a whole lot of work for freezing assets (in Western countries) of former Ukrainian president Yanukovych. She has also worked together with TEDPrize 2014 winner Charmian Gooche to create open business registries. As we (TEDxVilnius team) committed to help spread Charmian’s wish, I was curious to dig deeper.
Just as Daria’s talk has been posted online, I had a chance to visit former Yanukovych’s residence Mezhygirya 20km outside Kiev (one thing Daria is talking about in her talk). The trip to the place was part of the anti-corruption conference that Daria and her team was organizing the following day.
I felt like I had my own TEDx adventure: trip was joined by Romanian judge who was in charge of freezing assets in Romania, British journalist and financial investigator now focusing on Russia and post Soviet Union countries (luckily Lithuania was off the list), people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Switzerland who worked on Arab Spring cases and now focus on Ukraine, among dozen others. It truly felt like a class roadtrip, only for investigators and prosecutors (something I will probably never get to experience again).
We kind of were part of the illegal excursion, which is only possible because of self-organized protesters guarding the Mezhygirya territory. They all entered the area the day after Yanukovych ran away from the country and never left! They told us they will stay there until they’re sure all the assets won’t come back to the corrupt businesses of Yanukovich (worth noting that the land the residence is on belongs to the state, whereas buildings are still owned by Tantalit -- Yanukovych’s managing company). In some way official police cooperate with the protesters, so none of the things from the residence are being stolen (at least yet). Petro in the picture below is one of the first protesters that entered Mezhygirya in February 2014 after 3months of protesting in downtown Kiev (November 2013-February 2014).
Petro, Ukrainian protester to enter Mezhygirya in February, 2014
The most common question you could hear that evening among all visitors was “WHYYY on Earth one person would ever need so much of stuff?” No one could ever have enough of common sense to comprehend this.
Just few facts:
The area of Mezhygirya is 136 HA and there’s 54 km 5m height double fence around it (with the few meter corridor between the fences for the dogs to run)
The road leading from Kiev to Mezhygirya is one of the best roads in Ukraine as former president was using that road every day
In the territory there is own zoo, gas station, car collection, best kynological center in Ukraine, restaurant on a boat, few pigeon houses, lab to test food (goes into top10 labs in the world), sports center (with a separate salt room in it), own boxing ring and tennis court.
There’s 200m underground corridor between sports center and residency that was being used to avoid other people
All the floor is made of marple and stair railings are covered in gold
There is a countless number of chandeliers that all together cost 36m USD and some of them are also covered in gold, and weigh up to 10 tones
There is a chapel in the residency, where, upon president’s request, was created his own image of God (of course, because he knows how He looks like)
There is a gossip that it takes 100k USD a day to maintain everything in Mezhygirya
Here are some photos of what I just described:
I could go on and on but it would just again prove the fact how greedy people can sometimes be and how it is important for every regular person in society to care of what’s happening around them.
Everyone on the trip was completely stunned to see all the shiny things and couldn’t believe their eyes (I am completely sure there are hundreds or even thousands of such corrupt residencies around the world) and all together, it was disgusting to experience all of this (especially, when it is super bad taste).
Aand… you can watch Daria’s talk about this below: