Animals at the abandoned presidential residence in Ukraine find themselves in the midst of a corruption scandal.
When Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted former president of Ukraine, fled the country in the midst of the massive protests, he left behind a luxurious suburban residence with a private zoo in Mezhyhirya, which is near Kyiv, the nation’s capital. The animals in the zoo—rare and exotic ostriches, pheasants, deer, antelopes, sheep, and others—are all in need of food and care since the residence staff left the premises along with Yanukovych.
Today, the animals survive only due to the initiative of volunteers. Serhiy Hryhoryev, a Euromaidan activist and a former employee of Kyiv city zoo, has been directing care for the abandoned animals since Yanukovych left the country.
Now, the fate of the animals is caught up in concerns over corruption. Hryhoryev and his fellow volunteers are resisting attempts to place the animals in the Kyiv city zoo because of corrupt practices there that led to substandard care. According to the volunteers, non-transparent procurement processes have resulted in the theft of large amounts from the zoo’s budget. Animals there have been left lacking food and proper care.
The situation at the zoo is typical of state-run institutions in Ukraine. Hryhoryev speaks about the pyramid of corruption in which every establishment has a person in an “overseeing” role (smotryashchiy in the local criminal slang). This “overseer” collects stolen money and distributes the shares up a hierarchy that, at least in the past, reached top officials in the country.
The Ukrainian chapter of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization, which helps zoos around the world, has been providing some food for the Mezhyhirya animals. The organization has also been helping public zoos in Ukraine, although some, such as a zoo in Kharkiv, have refused their help altogether after learning that the organization’s policy allows only in-kind assistance, not cash.
Destroying institutionalized corruption was one of the goals of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine. Now that a new government has been appointed and presidential elections are to be held soon, there are hopes that corruption will go away. However, the volunteers in the Mezhyhirya zoo are not overly optimistic and want an investigation of the Kyiv zoo administration. In the meantime, they plan on keeping the animals in their own care.