Poverty-hit Ukraine enjoys boom in property prices

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The Independent Online

One of Europe's poorest countries, Ukraine, is enjoying an unlikely property boom that has delighted developers but left many ordinary Ukrainians out in the cold.

Some properties have rocketed in value by 600 per cent in the past three years, and prices in Kiev, the capital, reportedly rose by up to 25 per cent in the last two months of 2006 alone.

Property investors and people who already owned their homes have been the big winners. But young Ukrainians and renters now find themselves shut out of the market, with no prospect of buying.

"I'm young and I rent an apartment and make pretty good money, but I can't even afford to get a mortgage," said Anna, a secretary who did not want her surname to be published. Mortgage rates are, she says, as high as 12 per cent. "Even foreigners are surprised by how expensive it has become here."

Kiev now bristles with cranes and building sites that work 24 hours a day, rushing to meet what appears to be an insatiable demand for new housing.

Analysts say that if you bought a decent flat for the going rate in Kiev three years ago (just £15,000), it would now be worth £100,000, an increase of more than six-fold. Small city-centre flats in Kiev are now changing hands for £200,000 and more.

The huge price hikes have made Ukraine one of the most expensive places to buy property in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Yet average monthly salaries range from just £80-£180, depending on the region, and few people have savings.

And, to add insult to injury, many of the buyers are foreigners out to make fast money by renting or reselling. Irina Radko, of estate agents UA Property, says that many of the buyers are British.

"Our clients are mostly from the UK, but we also have customers from the USA, the UAE, Cyprus, New Zealand and Canada."

The most popular area to buy is Kiev, she added, followed by Crimea (a Black Sea holiday destination) and the Carpathian Mountains.

The trigger for Ukraine's property boom appears to have been the country's pro-Western "orange revolution" in 2004. The new President, Viktor Yushchenko, abolished visa requirements for EU and American citizens, and let it be known that his country was open for business.

Although he has since lost much of his influence and been forced to share power with a pro-Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, friendly investment conditions he created remain in place.

But foreign investors' good fortune has been local people's misery. Government buildings in Kiev are frequently picketed by people angry about poor living conditions. "The politicians promise that something will change, but nothing ever does," said Anna.