04 Apr 2014 09:33
Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was known for his extravagant lifestyle. The Ukrainian government has seized some of the former presidentâ€™s properties alleged to have been acquired through corruption. Among the items found was a dog breeding operation. In his 137 hectares property in Mezhyhirya, Ukraineâ€™s former leader had built a compound, which included breeding and surgery rooms, a beauty salon, a gym, and rooms for the staff who had to be present 24/7. This photo essay offers an unprecedented tour of Viktor Yanukovychâ€™s extravagant kennel, where some dog trainers still live and take care of the animals.
Nikolai Garus, 34, and Petrov Verena, 43, used to work as dog trainers in Yanukovychâ€™s Kennel. They decided to stay as volunteers on the kennel to take care of the dogs after Yanukovych left. "These dogs are our life", Nikolai says. "They grew up with us and we are the only ones who know how to take care of them. They were crying all day after Yanukovych left. We had to keep the dogs inside the kennel because they were not used to the hundreds of thousand people who came to visit the property after it has been open to the public. But they quickly got used to the new situation", he adds.
Nikolai and Petrov insist they come from the cities of Chernihiv and Khmelnytski, north and west of Kiev. "There were so many people saying that people working in Mezhyhirya were all from Crimea or Donetsk, but that is not true", Petrov says. "Yanukovych was just choosing the most qualified people in the country."
According to the trainers, the former president preferred to breed massive dogs. The smallest one is Antei, an English Mastiff. The other sixteen are gigantic Shepherds from the Caucasus or Central Asia. Ken a beautiful red-coated Tibetan Mastiff belongs to one of rarests and expensive breeds in the world. In 2011, a similar dog was sold for more than 1 million euros. Yanukovych, who used to keep only a small Chihuaua in his gigantic wooden mansion, was visiting the dogs only once or twice a week: "He was always very busy but the dogs knew when he was coming because we they felt we were preparing for the occasion", says Petrov, while proudly showing a room full of trophies from international canine competitions attended by both dogs and trainers. Yanukovych and his guests used to sit in this to watch the rare breed dogs exercising in a large field beside the Dnieper River. â€śYanukovych also used puppies as giftsâ€ť, Nikolai recalls, as he shows showing the certificates of two English Mastiffs who were offered to the Chinese President.
"Maintaining the kennel, as the whole property, is extremely expensive", says 51 year-old Igor Priyemskiy, who is part of a self-defense unit in Maidan Square and currently helping with the financial management of the property. "We found documents that shows it cost 3.5 million Euro a month and now we are struggling to find the 30 000 Euro needed to pay a reduced salary to the 80 persons who still work on the property. Not to mention the electricity and gas bills!" he says. Several proposals have been made for the future use of the property. One of them was to convert it to a rehabilitation center for children. But the government says it take care of it at the moment because of the current political crisis.