Ukraine uprising: The private zoo, the galleon moored on a private lake, the fleet of vintage cars - Ukrainians left open-mouthed at the opulence of Yanukovych's country estate

It's a kleptocratic state with no independent judiciary where one in four lives in poverty. No wonder they've had enough

It was the expressions on the faces of the everyday Ukrainians that stayed in the mind. As the crowds flung aside the gates and flooded into President Yanukovych's country estate, they were left open-mouthed at the scale of the opulence uncovered.

It was not just the size of it; so big, in fact, that many reported walking around for hours but still seeing only a fraction of the grounds.

Nor the private zoo, complete with its own peacocks. Or the faux galleon permanently moored on his private lake. Or the fleet of vintage cars. Or the motorcycle collection. It was the fact that they had never imagined anything like this even existed.

Every Ukrainian knows the country has a corruption problem. It is impossible not to. You can barely visit, let alone try to do business there, without at some point realising a bribe is expected. But until able to see for themselves the luxury that those at the top had bought with the money they had skimmed off, few could conceive the scale of the theft undertaken.

The average daily wage in Ukraine is £8. In a number of regions, it is barely £5. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. It has the most severe HIV epidemic in Europe. Millions lack adequate health and social care.

It did not have to be like this. Blessed with natural resources, a benign climate across much of its southern regions, an educated workforce and access to the Black Sea, this should be a wealthy country. In 1992, after the Soviet empire had imploded, its economy was roughly the size of that of its neighbour Poland. Now it is half its size.

Latest:

Country is descending into a chaos of warring extremist groups
EU aims to woo new leadership with aid deal
Comment: Too simple to describe this as a case of East vs West
Putin promises to work with Merkel and keep crisis-hit country ‘intact’

The reason why is largely due to the kleptocratic state that has been formed there. Forbes magazine reported that Yanukovych's own son, a dentist, won 50 per cent of all state contracts last month, which one commentator called "possibly the biggest dental extraction in history". There is no independent judiciary.

After yesterday's tumultuous events, what happens next is uncertain. There are certainly worrying signs that the country could tear itself apart. In the Crimea, demonstrators were on the streets demanding unification with Russia, which keeps a vast fleet in Sebastopol – just as their counterparts in Kiev were celebrating while storming Yanukovych's country compound.

But it would be wrong to read what is happening as some inevitable fault line between rival ethnic groups, with the eastern-based "Russians" versus the western-based "Ukrainians". From its start in November, this has been a conflict not about geography but about ideology – and exactly what type of country its people want Ukraine to be.

On the one side are those who want a robust legal system, a fairer economy, an engagement with the wider Western world and a more democratic rather than autocratic political system.

On the other are those who have, or fear they have, the most to lose: the political elites and those who got rich off Ukraine's pickings. There are also those who worry that competition could result in economic reforms which would wreck their livelihoods or who – not least due to the government's propaganda – fear that anarchy beckons.

Ukraine has a blood-soaked history. Knowing just how bad things can get when things go wrong is an understandable incentive to back a government that promises strength and stability, even if, in practice, it delivers neither of those things.

Many in this anti-reform camp are in the eastern part of the country, with its greater proximity to, and therefore economic interdependency with, Vladimir Putin's Russia. But not all of those living in this region are regime supporters, and it has suffered just as much economic hardship as the rest of the country. Equally, there are many in the west who support the old regime.

What is certain, however, is that, despite yesterday's public protestations, Yanukovych must quickly accept what is now inevitable if things are not to get even worse. His day as leader of a united state is done, though the knowledge that he and his family face not only the loss of much of their wealth but possible imprisonment may prevent him acknowledging that fact.

The freeing of Yulia Tymoshenko, who remains popular despite the corruption rumours that also surround her, provides a potential figurehead for the opposition. The ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko has emerged as another viable leader, one untainted by the scandals and political machinations of the past.

The faux galleon was one of the more unusual finds on the estate The faux galleon was one of the more unusual finds on the estate Yet the most important development yesterday may not be Tymoshenko's release, or even Yanukovych's departure from Kiev, but the one signalled by that look of amazement on the faces of those people at the President's country compound. They now know and, indeed, all Ukrainians now know, exactly the scale of the exploitation that was being undertaken.

Whoever comes next will not be able to allow business to continue as usual. The reality of what was going on has been exposed and, therefore, unlike the opulent but static galleon in Viktor Yanukovych's lake, the country can finally change course.

The key players

Yulia Tymoshenko, 53

The former energy company boss was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution after Viktor Yanukovych's election as president. She was prime minister in 2005 and from 2007 to 2010. Given a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office in 2011, she was freed yesterday.

Vitali Klitschko, 42

"Dr Ironfist" is the WBC world heavyweight "champion emeritus" and leader of the opposition Udar party. He told demonstrators he was prepared to "fight" and "face bullets".

Oleksandr Turchynov, 49

This senior member of the opposition Fatherland Party, writer and Tymoshenko ally was elected speaker of the national parliament yesterday.

Arsen Avakov, 50

Former head of the Kharkiv state government was arrested for an illegal land transfer in 2012. The Tymoshenko ally was elected to parliament in 2012 and appointed interim interior minister yesterday.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, 39

The economist, lawyer and leader of the Fatherland party in parliament turned down an offer to become prime minister in January, but there are rumours that he might now take the post on an interim basis.

Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
people
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
film
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Digital Marketing Manager, Womens Fashion, London

£50-£60K Plus Benefits: Charter Selection: Highly successful leading women’s l...

Year 6 Teachers needed for day to day supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis