Crabs, bats and communists, in Cuba's greatest Soviet souvenir.
Before the 2014 Revolution, the palace at Mezhyhirya was home to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Since he fled to Russia though, it has been converted into a public park and a museum to excess.
Common people now wander the grounds, marvelling at the ridiculous tastes of their former dictator; his classic car collection has been turned into a museum, his tennis courts, boxing ring and spa suite are now open to curious eyes. Newlyweds shoot wedding photos on Yanukovych’s manicured lawns, while a ferry boat brings visitors up the river all the way from Kiev. Around the grounds, cycle paths have been painted onto the former president’s private roads, and a handful of cafes and coffee shops have been built along the waterfront.
I have visited Mezhyhirya three times now, and while this spectacle of wealth and poor taste is quite extraordinary in itself, for me, the real story here was Petro.
Viktor Yanukovych’s former home is currently controlled by one single man from Lviv. Petro arrived in 2014, during the revolution, and now he guards the property, dressed in leather armour and with a flag draped round his shoulders as a cape. As the sole key-holder, no one gets into the place without Petro’s approval.
My friends in Ukraine told various conflicting stories about Petro. Some believed he was Yanukovych’s man, a butler to the dictator, posing as a revolutionary and watering the flowers until his boss returns.
But Petro’s story is far more complicated than that. After my last visit I decided to dig deeper – and so I arranged a private meeting with Petro at the mansion, and I returned to Mezhyhirya shortly after to interview him.
Soon, I plan to post that interview in full. For now though, here’s a visual tour of the Mezhyhirya estate – and a glimpse at the eccentric man who now calls the dictator’s mansion ‘home.’
Inside the Mansion
Petro: The Man in Mezhyhirya
Winter at Mezhyhirya