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Inside Ukraine's lavish 'Museum of Corruption'

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(7 Jul 2018) LEADIN The lavish lifestyle and corruption of Ukraine's former president has become an unlikely tourist attraction near Kiev. Viktor Yanukovych's former palatial home, complete with chandeliers, a private zoo and manicured gardens, has been seized by the public and has now become something akin to a 'museum of corruption'.    STORYLINE Surrounded by acres of woodland and built on a former nature reserve, this is the impressive estate known as Mezhyhirya. The palatial house was once home to the former president Viktor Yanukovych and was designed to resemble an oversized hunting lodge. A lake, private fountain and manicured gardens add to the sense of grandeur. Inside is just as luxurious - visitors marvel at a gold-plated chandelier, expensive furniture, rare blue marble stairs and a white Steinway piano. Thousands of tourists have visited his estate since Yanukovych fled Ukraine to Russia in February 2014. Then, protestors entered his residence, which was eventually seized by the state.   Prime Morfey is visiting from Ireland and says he's astonished by the display of wealth. "I think it's amazing but I'm saddened to see how much money was spent given the poverty that existed in Ukraine. But it's a phenomenal building.  But very sad at the same time." Yanukovych moved into the estate when he became Prime Minister in 2002. He was later elected President in 2010 and served until he was ousted in 2014. One visitor from Israel, Alex Ayvirov adds: "Yanukovych differs from the others as he stole everything. While other oligarchs produced something or had a corporation, he was a politician who simply stole money, took away businesses, but I don't know for sure. Frankly speaking the house it is pretty tawdry, very palatial. The normal person would never live here." Now the residence is one of the most popular places to spend the weekend for Ukrainians and also a must see destination for foreign tourists Petro Oliynyk was among the first to get inside Yanukovych's home in 2014 and saw how the former president lived. Four years on Petro now works a guide. He says after Yanukovych left Ukraine, thousands pages of documents were found, including accounting papers. "According to their (Mezhyhirya owners) accounting, more than 2 billion US dollars are invested in the property. The papers said it cost around 100 US dollars to keep it daily, 4 million US dollars were spent to keep Mezhyhirya. At least 500 families in Ukraine live in such properties, it helps to understand the reasons (of poverty) better," he says.   In 2017, Mezhyhirya was returned to state ownership by a court order. Governor of Mezhyhirya Residence, Denys Tarakhkotelyk says it is now in public hands and a reminder of the excesses of corrupt officials. "Mezhyhirya is national park today. This is how people call it, it doesn't have such judicial status. But 100 percent of people who visit it, officials and lawmakers of Verkhovna Rada (parliament), foreign tourists all of them agree that it has to be a national park and Honka (main house) is the museum   of corruption." The sprawling estate is also home to a private zoo and farm. But when the former president and his staff left, the animals faced a difficult situation.   When he heard about the situation, biologist Serhiy Grygoriev decided to go and help the animals. Since then he's been keeping, feeding and caring for the animals every day. The zoo is now one of the estate's many attractions, along with the gardens and fountains. Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_Archive Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/APArchives Google+: https://plus.google.com/b/102011028589719587178/+APArchive​ Tumblr: https://aparchives.tumblr.com/​​ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/APNews/ You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/2977ac6e2c95726fea2abf8994d122cf
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