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1 June, 2012  ▪  Oleksa Mann

Vanity Fair

The dream residence of today’s Ukrainian nouveau riche resembles the kind of luxury restaurant craved by generations of soviet and post-soviet mobs

You can learn a lot about a person by examining his home. Interiors betray the psychologies of their owners, allowing outsiders a glimpse of their lives, insecurities, philosophies and achievements. Like a mirror, an interior reflects a person’s character, revealing the world he has arranged around himself and speaking volumes to the careful observer. This is where he lives, entertains guests and relaxes. The owner’s character is plain to see even in an interior designed by the best professional. Once the intricate details of surfaces, colours, textures, furniture and lamps are complete, the nouveau riche Ukrainian will not miss the chance to throw a soviet carpet purchased through black market connections in 1983 on his rosewood floor.

LIFE IN A RESTAURANT

Interior photos of Viktor Yanukovych’s residence in Mezhyhiria are a good source for psychological, sociological and artistic investigation. To me, his dacha looks like an overpriced hotel restaurant in a vacation resort. An entire social phenomenon is encompassed in one house – the dream of living in a mansion that resembles a soviet-era luxury restaurant.

This is what chic looks like through the eyes of former gangsters with primitive tastes and great wealth. First, they reluctantly changed from their favourite sweatsuits into Brioni suits, hiding massive golden chains under the collars of their pink shirts. They can hide or remove their prison tattoos, but their home will still reveal much of their essence. They might build a mansion in the middle of a nature reserve surrounded by security and think that it is well hidden. For some reason, this is a typical desire of this social group, from presidents to car wash tycoons.

The trend of building mansions that resemble fancy restaurants—with bookcases of pricey rare wood, marble pillars, gold-framed mirrors and Svarovski chandeliers that cost as much as a three-bedroom apartment in Kyiv—reveals the owner’s attitude toward the country. This class views the entire country as a restaurant, a venue for temporary relaxation with lackeys to serve them. They can spit in a lackey’s face and still get their food and drinks served, or beat up the staff—because that’s what gangsters sometimes do in restaurants, especially with all the impunity they enjoy. Also, they aren’t inclined to leave tips because they’ve “spent a load of money here anyway.” In the meantime, they feel free to flip tables, shatter plates and throw up on the polished marble floors.

“PARTY TIME” PHILOSOPHY

Chic is an integral part of the partying process. For a progressive nouveau riche Ukrainian at the height of his glory, chic means temporary glitter, first and foremost, that requires huge financial investment to create. He has no need for artwork or designer tricks. The most important thing is for the home to resemble the Metropolis or Astoria, archetypal fancy restaurants from the soviet movies of their childhood. This sort of restaurant-home is crowned with a nice shiny chandelier with hundreds of dangling ornaments that puts the owners into the desired “restaurant trance.”

The designers of Turkish and Egyptian restaurants at five-plus-another-few-star hotels seem to have borrowed this trick because these are the vacation destinations wealthy Ukrainians prefer.

The coolness of the restaurant-home is bound to impress the cronies who visit to party and sing songs from their good old prison past. The brilliant, solid walls free them to do all the things they could not do in prison. After prison, though, comes party time. What better place to relax after such emotional stress than a restaurant where clients walk the red carpet like movie stars and servants help them take off their fur coats, park their limousines and treat them with a shot of vodka and caviar before they walk through the door?

HERE AND THERE

Architects and designers tell many funny stories about how Ukrainian nouveau riche who live between Ukraine and Western countries arrange their living spaces here and there. They build two aesthetically opposite places. In France, for instance, they might build a place to wow the locals, cramming it with antique and designer furniture, artwork, marble statues, 16th century tapestries and other stuff for “them.” In Ukraine, they build a normal house where their cronies will feel comfortable in their usual environment.  

Viewed in the context of chaotic urban construction, the destruction of historical monuments and razing of parks, the trend looks perfectly normal. The nouveau riche shape the environment in which they want to live. To them, the era of perpetual rule ended with Brezhnev, then everything began spinning and changing faster than the flicker of a strobe light. Moreover, their prison experience does not contribute to their feeling of stability. Everything in the country appears temporary to them, so they don’t feel like they need to hide something when they fill the country with tasteless castle-like mansions or blatantly steal taxpayer money. This is all the result of uncertainty and the sense that material possessions are fleeting.


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