One obvious explanation for why Ukraine keeps falling further and further behind European nations is that the people who are running the country are practically useless.
The situation constantly reminds me of a fable by Ivan Krylov, the classic Russian writer, about a swan, a crawfish and a pike pulling a cart in three different directions: “Which one of them is wrong, which one is right – we cannot judge. But the cart remains in place.”
However, Ukrainian politicians – while doing little for the people they should serve – are doing very well for themselves. But you wouldn’t know this from their tax declarations, where modest incomes are declared by the same people who shamelessly flaunt their expensive cars, houses and clothes. The immorality of it all doesn’t seem to strike them.
After losing her presidential bid on Feb. 7, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has once more assumed the public image of “tragic victim.” In her prime days, peaking when she became prime minister for the first time in 2005, she was the country’s leading fashionista.
Hanna Herman, deputy head of the president’s administration, declared income of Hr 235,000 ($29,000) for 2009, but was spotted in April wearing a designer watch worth more than $50,000. In this Feb. 10 photo, she is celebrating Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in presidential election. (UNIAN)
Tymoshenko became a fan of Louis Vuitton, a highly-publicized French luxury brand of clothes and accessories, famous for its logo-stapled bags and suitcases. Tymoshenko didn’t limit herself to just one favorite. She also favored Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel, among other designers. Wherever she went, the prime minister was dressed with immaculate taste in expensive wear from head to toe. She was often asked by journalists as to the price tags of her outfits, but always dismissed and laughed off such questions. As a woman, I can understand Tymoshenko’s desire to look her best, but I also know it doesn’t need to cost half as much. A person trying to make Ukrainians believe she really cared about their fates should have been more modest.
2005 was also the year when President Viktor Yushchenko’s son, Andriy, attracted public attention with his appetites. Then 19-year-old, the president’s son was frequently seen spending huge amounts of money at the high-end Kyiv restaurants, Decadence House and Fellini. He also became known for driving a BMW M6 (costing 133,000 euros, according to estimates of a local car retailer at the time). The younger Yushchenko later claimed the car belonged to a friend, whose name he, naturally, couldn’t disclose.
In February of this year, big news arrived to Ukraine from France. The daughter of Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, Kristina, was attacked and robbed while on her way from a Parisian airport in a chauffeur-driven car. Apparently the criminal reached through the window and snatched Chernovetska’s purse, which, as she reported to French police, contained 4.5 million euros worth of jewelry!
Why was she casually traveling with this kind of valuables in a purse? Was she on her way to make a deal with the Russian mafia? The winter news came as quite a shock to Kyivans, many of whom were injuring themselves and getting into car crashes because the city authorities did such a miserable job clearing thick crusts of ice from sidewalks and roads.
The mayor pleaded poverty, while his daughter entertained in Paris and tossed around millions of euros. Chernovetsky’s son, Stepan, however has little interest in jewels. As a man, he prefers cars and not just any kind will do. The website www.topgir.com.ua published photographs of a yellow Porsche Carrera GT last month, claiming this is Chernovetsky Junior’s new vehicle. Only 1,270 such Porsche models were released for sale, at an estimated cost of $500,000. According to www.topgir.com.ua, young Chernovetsky was previously seen driving a Porsche 911 Turbo and then a Porsche 911 Turbo TechArt GT Street.
Kristina Chernovetska, daughter of Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, is driving an expensive Lamborghini in this 2007 photo. (tabloid.com.ua)
Irena Kilchytska, Kyiv mayor’s deputy until she was fired in March, is also famous for her taste in expensive cars. In 2009, she sold her Hummer and got a new Mercedes-Benz GL (estimated cost – at least 100 thousand euros), but preferred to drive to work in her Porsche or Bentley. Like Tymoshenko, Kilchytska prefers designer clothing from Dior, Chanel, Ferre and Dolce&Gabbana, and owns about 15 Hermes bags which famously cost $10,000-$15,000. Once she was seen wearing “shotgun” shoes by Chanel – the same as those favored by Madonna. On another occasion, Kilchytska arrived to a fashion show with a two-year-old little daughter carrying a tiny Louis Vuitton bag.
Hanna Herman, deputy head of the presidential administration, tried to play Mother Theresa by publicly announcing that the money she received from parliament as “material assistance” was given to poor sick children and the church. Still, Herman kept something to herself. For example, a diamond-encrusted Franck Muller watch (worth about $58,000), that, according to TabloID, she spotted at the meeting of the Party of Regions on April 23. Through an assistant, Herman said the watch was a birthday present. Apparently it was the same rich friend who gave her the Franck Muller that she previously wore, a cheaper model costing only $50,000.
Still scandals with cars are more frequent and serious. During her second tour as prime minister, Tymoshenko claimed that her ministers won’t be driving cars that cost more than Hr 500,000. Soon, however, Transportation Minister Yosyp Vinsky was seen driving an S-Class Mercedes worth more than one million hryvnias. After the scandal, Vinsky switched to another, cheaper Mercedes. The head of the Cabinet of Ministers, Petro Krupko, was likewise spotted driving a Mercedes with an estimated cost of Hr 800,000.
Finally, politicians’ houses are certainly no cheaper than their cars.
Mezhyhirya, President Viktor Yanukovych’s residence in Novi Petrivtsi village some 10 kilometers from Kyiv, was recently stripped of its title as a government cultural and historical reserve. Yanukovych, however, claimed that only an old house and one hectare of land in Mezhyhirya belong to him. The rest of the territory — with houses, pools and a tennis court under construction – officially belongs to a third party. One of his neighbors is former presidential rival Arseniy Yatsenyuk. However, Mezhyhirya isn’t completely overrun by politicians. The majority of them – including ex-president Leonid Kuchma, former Verkhovna Rada speaker Oleksandr Moroz, current parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko – own houses closer to the city, in the fancy Koncha Zaspa suburb.
It’s amazing how these officials, politicians and aspiring leaders criticize corruption, low salaries and pensions. They also talk about their desire to help people in need, such as orphans and sick children, while at the same time they openly lead lavish lifestyles. How can a person who casually spends $100-$200 on a single restaurant dinner sympathize with a person who has to live on the same amount of money for the whole month? A well-fed man can never understand or care about a hungry one.
Ukraine’s political arena remains a vanity fair. Naturally, everyone wants a job like these, with all their legal and illegal bonuses. I’d like to see who would be working in government if their salaries were average, and the chances to steal and take bribes were closed off.
After all, there is absolutely no reason for ministers to drive even Hr 500,000 cars, no need for mayoral deputies to carry $15,000 bags and no need for former presidents to live in the most expensive places in the country. When an official gives a speech telling people that the government doesn’t have enough money for pensions, schools and hospitals, and then drivess off on a fancy Mercedes to a country mansion, this is just plain ridiculous and disgraceful.
Lifestyle editor Alexandra Matoshko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.