Waterlogged: The Mysterious Documents Ukraine's Leader Dumped in a River on His Way out the Door

It appears that in his rush to get out of Kiev, embattled Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych left behind quite a paper trail. Protesters arriving at his opulent estate, the Mezhyhirya, a kind of Swiss chalet-meets-Neverland Ranch about 12 miles from Kiev, found hundreds pages of accounting files, receipts, and dossiers on Yanukovych's political opponents floating in a river. The incriminating records were apparently dumped there by whomever was last at the palace before Yanukovych fled for parts unknown, according to multiple reports on social media Saturday and in the Ukrainian press.

Protesters retrieved the documents from the water and set them out to dry in what was described as an airplane hangar. There, they were eagerly perused by journalists looking for evidence that would bolster the longstanding allegations of political and financial corruption by Yanukovych and his family.

The most intriguing piece of paper may be a receipt for a cash transfer of $12 million dated September 2010, about seven months after Yanukovych took office. It's not clear who gave the money, or whether Yanukovych was the recipient. Radio Svoboda, a Russian news organization that bills itself as an alternative to state-controlled media, reported that the receipt showed money unnamed "oligarchs" had given to Yanukovych, a claim that couldn't be independently verified.

Also among the discarded files -- some of which had pages torn out -- were photographs and personal information about journalists and democracy activists opposed to the government. Alisa Ruban, the international secretary of Democratic Alliance, an opposition group, said some of the photos showed members of her organization. There were also lists of "political and civil society activists who [sic] Yanukovych was scared of," the group said on its Facebook page.

If the documents left behind are valid and were indeed thrown out by Yanukovych or his loyalists in an attempt to cover his political and financial tracks, they help to complete a picture of the paranoid splendor in which the Ukrainian leader lived. At the same time he was keeping tabs on political opponents, Yanukovych was also acquiring expensive works of art and paying carpenters $31 million for ornate woodwork at his colossal home. The property was once owned by the state, but Yanukovych recently "privatized" the house and the hundreds of acres around it and turned it into his residence.

Ukrainian citizens spent much of Saturday wandering through the sprawling grounds of the Mezhyhirya as if it were a public park, gawking in wonder and shock at Yanukovych's collection of amusements, which includes a fleet of luxury cars, a full-size pirate galleon moored on a man-made lake, and a private zoo stocked with pigs, ostriches, and an ostentation of peacocks.

Elsewhere in Kiev, government officials were also reportedly trying to erase their paper trails as opposition forces took control of the capital and Yanukovych's allies fled. Some government buildings were closed after reports that officials in the public prosecutor's office were destroying documents, and rumors circulated that Yanukovych himself may have made off with a cache of files. The Financial Times quoted one protester in Kiev saying that opposition forces had secured a government building and were working with presidential guards to protect "secret documents" inside.

Yanukovych's ties to Ukrainian businessmen and billionaires have long fueled public suspicions that he and his family were wrongly profiting from his control of the country. The ousted leader's eldest son, Oleksander, is a dentist by training but has quickly become one of the richest men in Ukraine, in part through his ownership of businesses like a bank that reportedly increased its earning by an implausible 20 times in the last three quarters of 2011 and is among the country's biggest recipients of government contracts.

U.S. officials have described Yanukovych and his government as a kleptocracy in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. Given the ousted president's penchant for record keeping, it may be that among the soggy papers and printouts left behind at his plush pad is the evidence of his and his family's corruption. No wonder he may have tried to drown it.

Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images News


A Tale of Two Star-Crossed Lovers on the Front Lines of Ukraine's Protests

Lida Pankiv is a journalist and anti-government protester in Kiev, and in December she found herself in a most unusual situation one the front lines of the Ukrainian capital's anti-government protests. Along with a friend, Pankiv inserted herself between a cordon of Berkut riot police and a group of protesters, hoping to stave off a clash between the two. One of the police officers overheard Pankiv dictating her number to a friend.  A few hours later he sent the woman a text message, asking for her hand in marriage. "I stood in front of you with a shield last night, first I thought you are crazy, but then, when you and your friend stopped us, I realized I want to marry you," he wrote.

"First you will have to lower your shield," she responded. Several days later, he warned her to leave the Maidan, the Kiev square that has become the stronghold of anti-government demonstrators since anti-government protests began in November. Half an hour after his warning, police stormed the square.

Pankiv asked the officer, whose name hasn't been released and who hasn't commented publicly, to meet her on her side of the barricades. Though her heart reportedly "belonged to another," as she told Kyiv Post, the two crossed the barricades for a meeting. They spent an hour together before he had to return to his unit. That night at the barricades was the first time they managed to get together, but Ukraine's descent into chaos didn't prevent them from seeing each other  again.

Their story has gone viral in Ukraine, where on Saturday the tensions that had been fueling intense street battles between police and protesters for days exploded into an outright revolution. Parliament impeached the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych, and ordered the country's military back to its barracks. Jubilant protesters mobbed downtown Kiev and pored into Yanukovych's deserted mansion, gawking at its life-size pirate ship, private zoo, and veritable museum of expensive, antique cars. In a dramatic scene, the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was released from the prison where she had spent the last two and a half years on a corruption conviction that was widely seen been as politically motivated. 

Against this charged background, the couple's tale of unlikely love came as an unexpected example of unity in a country that has become bitterly divided over the protest movement. On Friday, Pankiv was supposed to tell the story of her lovesick Berkut officer on INTER, a pro-government news channel. "You probably want to hear the story of how I held back the Berkut all night with my bare hands," she said.

Instead, she chose to tell a very different story.

While in December she told the Kyiv Post that she was "happy to know that there are people like that man in Ukraine's police force," today, after some one hundred protesters have died at the hands of the Berkut, she says she hates him. And everything he represents.  

"I'll tell you a story of how I carried dead bodies with my bare hands yesterday. Yesterday, two of my friends were killed," the 24-year-old woman told the audience in the studio.

Here's the television interview in full:

Pankiv was composed, though visibly emotional. "You probably want to hear the story of how a Berkut officer fell in love with me and I fell in love with him. But no, I've grown to hate him." She said she hates various Ukrainian officials, including the now former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Yanukovych, the ousted president. "I hate the people who carry out their criminal orders."

And then, in the blue-lit talk show studio, surrounded by a confounded group of guests that included two somber-looking priests, she said she had decided to participate in the interview when she heard it would be broadcast live.

"And I want to say I hate the INTER station for lying to its viewers for three months and spreading hatred among the citizens of our country," she said. "You know are calling for unity and peace ... The only thing you can do is host your shows on your knees." The audience erupted in applause.

She brought photos of the victims of police brutality and showed them to the confounded host. "I want my dead friends to haunt you in your dreams."

Then, she stood up and left. "I'm sorry, I do not have more time, I'm going back to the Maidan. Glory to Ukraine!"