The tale of two realities: an expensive motorcycle parked outside Tiffany’s in Lviv beside a memorial to a fallen hero in the War against Russia — Diane Francis
My first visit to Ukraine was in February 1992 and the City of Kiev was gray, bleak and joyless as was the rest of the Soviet Union. Last month I re-visited — 23 years and several other assignments later — to find a new nation of extremes. There is prosperity and there is poverty; there is peace and war; cynicism and hope; there are reformers in high places and looters in low places as Russian operatives still lurk in the corridors of power.
But something else has begun to transform the place.
The 2014 revolution forced the thieves and Russian puppets fully out of the shadows. Former President Victor Yanukovych betrayed the people, stole from them and then began murdering them. Events spiraled downward until he was toppled exposing his Russian-inspired kleptocracy.
He has left two major stains on the history of the country: Murder on the Maidan and his lavish Mezhyhirya estate. This has enraged and called Ukrainians in greater numbers than ever to make sacrifices.
This trip I saw more flags than ever and met some remarkable patriots who have realized that the public itself must rally to the cause of trying to stop, and eventually reverse, the steady takeover by Russia since independence in 1991.
The world now knows that Yanukovych lived like a 19th Century Czar between 2002 and 2014 and oversaw the destruction of Ukraine’s military in preparation for the slow invasion of Ukraine. Its manpower was reduced and its equipment sold for profit by corrupt officials.
But most revealing was his estate outside Kiev and the scale of excess. As I toured it, I became more and more outraged with each extravagance: the golf course, yacht basin, party boat, hunting grounds, mansions, landscaping, car museums, equestrian grounds and lined ponds stocked with trout and fountains.
Finally, Ukraine’s Pandora’s Box has been opened for all the world — and all the people — to see. Before 2014, his lifestyle was top secret, guarded by 1,000 soldiers and a 25-foot high green fence along a 34-mile perimeter. The corruption that has ruined Ukraine is no longer a whispered rumor or a mere suspicion. The nation’s elites have been exposed like looters on camera.