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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape