Throughout the winter of 2014, protesters in Ukraine fought to overthrow their corrupt president. On the night of February 22, Viktor Yanukovych boarded a helicopter and finally fled, as loaded trucks were hastily moving valuables out of his estate.
The estate, Mezhyhirya, had been surrounded by rumors of obscene luxury. Some even gossiped about a toilet made of gold. The golden toilet was ultimately never found, but there was plenty more to shock the first protesters who entered Mezhyhirya: Ostriches and llamas in a private zoo. A ship built to serve as a special-occasion restaurant. A golden loaf of bread just lying around the house. The 100-acre estate was crawling with gawkers for days, not unlike a Romanov palace after the Bolshevik revolution.
Now Mezhyhirya is open to the public as a national park and the Museum of Corruption. And it’s worth visiting for at least two reasons: One, to enjoy a perfectly groomed park with bike lanes, river views, and ample space for picnics. And two, to see what corruption and greed can do when they aren’t kept in check.
Below is everything you need to know for a seamless visit to Mezhyhirya — from transport and navigation to the most outlandish sights.
How to get to and around Mezhyhirya
Mezhyhirya, roughly translated as “the place between mountains,” is spread on a hilly terrain by the Dnipro river some nine miles away from Kiev. It’s official address is in Novi Petrivtsi, an affluent village where many Ukrainian government officials live.
But despite the park’s popularity and its proximity to the city, it’s poorly connected by public transport. You can take a 397K bus from the Heroiv Dnipra metro station, but that’s the only one that goes directly to the park. The bus is the cheapest way to get to Mezhyhirya at only $1 (25 Ukrainian hryvnias) per ride, but trying to find the right stop in the maze of Heroiv Dnipra is not for everyone. We recommend taking an Uber or Uklon instead: if you hail a ride from Heroiv Dnipra, which is on the edge of the city, it will cost you between $4 and $10 (100-250 UAH).
On summer weekends, you can also hop on a river cruise to Mezhyhirya. For $20, it will take you from Kiev River Port to the estate and back, with three hours to roam the grounds. That’s woefully little time for a park of this size, but a boat ride with music and drinks should compensate for that.
The adult entrance ticket to Mezhyhirya is $6 most days of the week, but on Tuesday it drops to $3 with free admission for children. You can also get a guided tour on a golf cart and rent a bike or a segway. Keep in mind that the park is massive, and the slopes are steep, so spending extra on a pair of wheels might be justified. The hours differ depending on the season, so be sure to check them on the official website.
Once you’re in and ready to go, you can use this map to find your way around Mezhyhirya. Below are the attractions you shouldn’t miss in the best order to see them.
What to see in Mezhyhirya
Honka, the kitsch main house
Dubbed Honka because of the Finnish company that built it, the ex-president’s home is the main attraction in Mezhyhirya. From the outside, Honka looks like a large and fairly normal log house. But its interior oozes over-the-top luxury, which was met with outrage when Honka opened to the public.
Once you step into the house, you realize it’s basically a bourgeois Versailles. A statue of a medieval knight in full armor is casting a reflection onto the hall’s marble floor. Elevators are gleaming with glass and faux gold. Door knobs, flower pots, and plumbing are emitting more golden shine. Shiny objects dominate this interior — the most notable being a crystal chandelier worth roughly $5 million. An underground pass connects Honka to a health and wellness center with saunas, a gym, a massage parlor, a tanning salon, and more.
Both the house and the wellness center are included in a guided tour, but getting on that tour is less than straightforward. There’s no schedule or a ticket booth. You call a phone number on the door of the house, and if you’re lucky and someone picks up, you can arrange a tour. At $20, it’s somewhat pricey, but the experience is definitely worth it.
The private zoo
“What is wrong with me supporting those ostriches? They just lived there. What was I supposed to do, walk around with my eyes closed?” That’s how Yanukovych explained his private zoo with ostriches to BBC News soon after his flight. In addition to the swans and ducks you’ll see around the park, horse stable, and canine training center, the ex-president had a full-fledged zoo with wild birds and animals.
From the infamous ostriches, peacocks, and parrots to antelopes, deer, and even llamas, the zoo is home to a vast variety of species. Some of them are endangered and rarely seen in the wild. A section of the zoo is reserved for farm animals, which were kept for meat and milk, while greenhouses next door grew fruit and veggies for the family.
Penky, the original residence
While the rest of the estate belonged to this or that shell corporation, a small chunk of land with a modest two-storey house was Yanukovych’s legal property. In 2011, when rumors of embezzlement peaked, the then-president invited the press to his “home” to dispel them. Fenced away from the tended gardens you see here, with opulent Honka well-hidden behind the trees, Yanukovych showed the journalists around his normal-looking property and casually bragged about his fitness routine. Footage of Yanukovych hopping up and down a row of tree stumps, penky in Ukrainian, went viral and gave name to his residence.
You’ll hear this and many more anecdotes in a guided tour around Penky. There are free ones at 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 5L00 PM, and a tour at any other time will cost you just $2. You won’t be able to go inside the house, but you will see the “beehive” — another one of the ex-president’s fake wellness habits.
Galleon, a restaurant on a ship
For dinner parties and al fresco lunches, Yanukovych had his very own ship. Galleon is a replica of an 18th-century sailing ship, built exclusively for Mezhyhirya and equipped for use as a restaurant. The ship reportedly cost $3 million to decorate, featuring rare timber, marble floors, and, of course, gilded bathrooms.
Unfortunately, the inside of Galleon is off limits to the public, so you won’t be able to dine under its posh chandeliers. After you’ve taken a good look at the ship from the outside, settle for one of the more down-to-earth eateries around it.
The vintage car collection
The ex-president’s garage, now called the Museum of Retro Cars, contains 35 cars and seven motorbikes, most of them vintage or rare models. A 2009 ZiL, for example, is one of just three in the world. The remaining two are said to belong to Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former strongman President of Kazakhstan. The oldest car in the collection is a 1938 Audi, and others are Soviet, German, and American retro cars ranging from 1930s to 1980s.
The garage is open from 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM, but, again, the hours differ depending on the season. The entrance ticket is $2 for adults and a little over $1 for children and the elderly.
The golf course
No one has ever seen Yanukovych play golf, but he liked to talk about it and clearly had the means to play. The high-end golf clubs found in Honka had his initials engraved, while the vast golf course in Mezhyhirya allegedly cost $2-3 million to build.
The golf course is not in use anymore, but it’s as lush and meticulously trimmed as before. On weekends, it’s dotted with picnic blankets, where visitors nibble on sandwiches, soak in the sunshine, and nap. If you follow the route in this guide, the golf course will be your last stop before leaving Mezhyhirya. Bring snacks or get them at the kiosk nearby, and have yourself a well-deserved break.