From left, journalists Natalie Sedletska, Anna Babinets, Roman Vintoniv and Oleksandr Akymenko sort through Mezhyhirya files in the early hours of Feb. 23. An estimated 10,000 documents were recovered from the Kyiv reservoir near the deposed president’s residence in Mezhyhirya, just outside of Kyiv. Thousands of documents were later found in a storage room. Copies of most of them will be posted on yanukovychleaks.org, a project sponsored by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
© Katya Gorchinskaya
Early on Feb. 23, a handful of journalists and activists hastily picked up soggy folders stuffed full of documents that contained some of the most guarded secrets in Ukraine during Viktor Yanukovych’s rule as president since 2010. They had been fished out from the Kyiv reservoir leading to the Dnipro River.
Under protection from guards of the EuroMaidan revolution, who now control Yanukovych’s 140-hectare luxury compound 20 kilometers north of Kyiv, the journalists gathered the documents and created the online database yanukovychleaks.org.
The documents were found in Mezhyhirya, the former president’s now-nationalized multimillion-dollar estate, which had been guarded like a fortress until Yanukovych fled in a hurry late on Feb. 21. The next day, he was impeached as president by parliament. Some 160 folders of his files were dumped hastily in the water on his way out, but were recovered quickly by divers.
Journalists are now looking for evidence of embezzlement and excess by Yanukovych and his cronies, corruption that, according to new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk on Feb. 27, cost Ukraine as much as $70 billion over the last three years.
For many of the investigative journalists involved in the project, the findings are particularly precious because they had spent years digging for scraps of information about Mezhyhirya. Now they hit the jackpot: not only did they get to camp out in the estate, they were able to start assembling proof of illegal activities by a president who declared earnings of just $2.5 million in 2012.
The disgraced ex-president spared no expense to equip his house. Just one set of silverware, purchased in May 2012, cost Hr 923,000, including fish forks worth Hr 102,000. One set of curtains was purchased for 290,000 euros. A set of chandeliers was purchased for a whopping 39 million euros.
His extravagant expenses included multiple houses, spa salons, gilded taps, antique icons and books, some of which looked to be pilfered from national collections, including Ukraine’s first printed book that dates to 1564, the Apostle.
One gardening bill alone from November 2010 was Hr 2.9 million, just for labor and equipment. The bills for the trees, supplied by Dominant Limited company in London, were worth hundreds of thousands of euros and featured exotic types such as Spanish platanus and the redwood Metasequoia Glyptostroboides. A total of 16 platanus were bought at the cost of $1,890 each, while each of the six redwoods cost €3,200.
Yanukovych was fond of hunting and weapons. Extensive arsenals and ammunition were found both dumped in the river and in storage rooms. Pricey hunting gear was found in a special room.
Documents also revealed he liked to keep hunting trophies. One bill showed that Hr 9,336 was spent to preserve a deer skull, a moose skull and to make rugs out of wolf skin. He had living animals, too, including ostriches, deer, rabbits and rare breeds of award-winning dogs. According to some estimates, he had some 5,000 animals on the estate – if thousands of crayfish in ponds are included.
Yanukovych was extremely security-conscious. Apart from a five-meter high perimeter fence, and a wrought-iron inner fence to protect his main residence, he had thousands of well-equipped guards and his company, Tantalit, spent top bucks to finance and equip them.
There is plenty of evidence as to where the money came from.
Many incoming cash orders from people and companies were found, and well as a meticulous record of cash donations. Deciphering them will take time. They included abbreviations, names, locations and dates when the money arrived. Sponsors were identified as Ser. Nik, Pav. Vlad. or simply Lena or Diana. Sometimes names were omitted altogether, with only dates and sums kept. Often, donations are indicated as coming from Pavlo Litovchenko, the director of Tantalit, and UBB (or UkrBusinessBank), which belongs to the ex-president’s elder son, Oleksandr Yanukovych.
Between September 2006 and December 2008, “incoming cash from investors” in one record stood at Hr 155 million, $8.66 million and over €1 million.
Tantalit and UBB gave and received lots of cash “donations,” according to the documents. On July 6, 2010, $400,000 in cash was received from an unknown man, with only one signature of the donor.
Yanukovych’s companies also seemed to pay good salaries to top managers.
For example, a cash order was recovered that indicated Anatoliy Mykolayovych Kobylinskiy of DELLIT Ltd, another one of the ex-president’s companies, received Hr 701,924 in wages in September, and then another one worth $202,150. In October, he made $205,950. There are also many suspicious documents that suggest massive money-laundering schemes.
By the second day of the “Yanukovych leaks” project, the records fished out of the river were being cared for by Kyiv librarians. By day three, professional scanners were lent to the project to make high-resolution copies. A day later, similar documents filling a room were found.
The documents are now kept in one of the residences in Mezhyhirya and heavily guarded. The scanned originals are being passed on to the prosecutor’s office for investigation.
When Yanukovych was elected as president in 2010, he celebrated on Feb. 9 by uncorking six $700 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal. If the general prosecutor investigates and prosecutes the crimes alleged by the Mezhyhirya files – not to mention the alleged mass murders of EuroMaidan demonstrators – Yanukovych will be sipping only tea in prison for many years to come.
Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.