When Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine on February 22, his palatial Mezhyhirya estate was left unguarded. Ukrainians quickly noticed that the usual security detail had vanished; hundreds soon arrived to scour the property. They found a private zoo, golf course, vintage car and boat collections, Yanukovych-branded vodka, and golden bricks in the shape of bread loaves, among other indulgences (you can take 3-D tour of the grounds here).
They also found scores of documents detailing exactly how the Yanukovych presidency had operated: receipts for cash bribes, files on opposition journalists, and records of the president's private meetings. It seemed clear that Yanukovych left in a hurry: He made a botched attempt to destroy his files by throwing them into a nearby lake. Some of the materials were still floating at the surface; more of them were quickly uncovered by volunteer divers. But security camera footage examined by the Kyiv Post shows that Yanukovych's exit was actually planned days in advance. "He even oversaw the operation himself in the hours ahead of his final departure late on Feb. 21," the Post writes. "Some videos show what appears to be a small arsenal of weapons being carried away, including at least three apparent automatic rifles fixed with scopes and more than two dozen other rifles, some in a glass case."
For the past several weeks, a group of journalists now living at the compound has been working to recover, parse, and scan the thousands of records that were left behind. They have launched YanukovychLeaks, an online platform for publishing and analyzing the files, and so far they have only had time to go through a small fraction of the tens of thousands of documents found at the estate.
Межигір'я, Хонка, 4 ранку. Спальня Януковича.// 4am. Man sleeps in president's bed at abandoned residence Mezhygirya pic.twitter.com/FbexxubdQd— Natalie Sedletska (@natasedletska) March 11, 2014
The team has uploaded 9,504 files online and has invited the rest of the world to help with the investigation. What they've uncoverd as yet reveals just how paranoid and powerless Yanukovych was in the weeks leading up to his ouster, and the gruesome extent to which his presidency depended upon violence and corruption. Here are a few of their discoveries that Yanukovych might have wanted to be more careful about concealing:
Putin pressured Yanukovych to crack down on the Maidan protesters. Ukrainska Pravda found that the notebooks of Yanukovych's security chief, Kostyantyn Kobzar, detail a private meeting between the two leaders at Putin's residence at Valdai on January 8, as the Maidan protests continued to grow.
Ironically, Ukrainska Pravda found record of Yanukovych's suspicion of one of its own articles, an investigation into how special police were ordered to forcefully disperse the crowd on Independence Square on November 30. "Where did Ukrainska Pravda get the documents before the interrogation?" the notebook reads, and goes on to note that Yanukovych had plans to call Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka about the issue.
There's also a list of who among Ukraine's rich and powerful was courting Yanukovych in his last days of power. Ukrainian oligarch Sergei Kurchenko, one of the 18 Ukrainian individuals who are now subject to E.U. sanctions, asked to meet with Yanukovych many times in December 2013, Kobzar's notes reveal. Ihor Surkis, who own's Ukraine's national soccer team, and billionaire politician Vadim Novinsky also requested meetings between December and January.
The notebooks explictly tie Yanukovych to the brutal beating of journalist Tetyana Chornovol in December. Natalia Sedletska, one of the journalists on the YanukovychLeaks team, told Radio Free Europe that the notebook reveals Kobzar had tapped Chornovol's phone and carefully coordinated the attack.
And they detail the extend of Yanukovych's real estate holdings and security apparatus. About half of the YanukovychLeaks files examined so far have to do with "construction and real estate," three journalists examining the files explain. Among the documents are a receipt for a €8 million lamp and records of millions of dollars in cash bribes. Yanukovych held multiple properties around Ukraine, including multiple "abandoned" luxury apartments and a property for his mistress. The 350-acre Mezhyhirya estate, codenamed "Object 109," was guarded by 650 security officers prior to Yanukovych's abrupt departure for Russia on February 22. For Yanukovych's final public appearance on February 14, 651 security officers and "several snipers" were on hand, Sedletska and co-author Anna Babinets write. As the protests on the Maidan grew, the ex-president upped his security detail and clamped down on those who were allowed to see him in person.