Skip to main content

Ukraine's secret weapon: Funding from the country's millionaires

By Will Ripley, CNN
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many of Ukraine's mega rich making massive military contributions
  • Of Ukraine's 100 richest people, according to Forbes, seven have publicly donated to the military
  • But prosecutors are also investigating others for financing pro-Russian rebels

(CNN) -- A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.

In a quiet oasis, huge mansions sit on lush lawns behind gilded gates. Private security guards stand watch over quiet, tree-lined streets.

You'd never know you're in a country in the midst of a violent conflict, with near daily reports of intense battles killing soldiers, pro-Russian separatists, and civilians -- including children.

These are the mansions that rose when the Soviet Union fell. And this is where many of Kiev's new rich are riding out the crisis, far from the front lines of eastern Ukraine.

Army: Civilian convoy attacked in Ukraine
Convoy: Humanitarian aid or Trojan horse
A man covers the body of his mother, who was killed on a bus during a battle in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, September 16. The fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 3,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations. A man covers the body of his mother, who was killed on a bus during a battle in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday, September 16. The fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 3,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations.
Crisis in Ukraine
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Crisis in Ukraine Photos: Crisis in Ukraine

Here, we find Kiev millionaire Vyacheslav Konstantinovsky sitting nervously on his grandiose outdoor patio. He is surrounded by the spoils of a successful construction business and restaurant chain.

Konstantinovsky -- with a shaved head, tattoos, and muscled physique -- doesn't look like your stereotypical fat cat millionaire. He looks tough, rugged -- and fearful for his country. "If we sit and enjoy life here the [the war] will come to us also," he tells me.

Konstantinovsky worries about the struggling Ukrainian military. For years it had been ill equipped, untrained, and underfunded. Now, he and his twin brother are part of a growing group of Ukraine's mega rich making massive military contributions.

Konstantinovsky has donated $450,000 -- a figure funded, in part, by the sale of his Rolls Royce Phantom -- to the military to supply soldiers with weapons, uniforms, and supplies. "I can live without [my] Rolls Royce. But now it's difficult to live without enough arms," he says.

According to Forbes, seven of Ukraine's 100 richest people have publicly donated to the military. Prosecutors are investigating others on the Forbes list for financing pro-Russian rebels.

The United Nations says more than 2,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since mid-April. Many are civilian volunteers, who left their families and jobs to join the fight.

What sets Konstantinovsky apart from other wealthy Ukranian donors is the 53-year-old's background as a Soviet soldier. Now, he is a member of Ukraine's volunteer battalions.

"If we don't fight, than we will be humiliated and we will live in the same country as it was before, when there was corruption. [The old government] was robbing businesses, they were putting people in jail for nothing," he says.

He's already done one rotation in Donetsk, and plans to return to the front lines. He knows that each day, volunteers like him die -- yet is ready to send his wife and children abroad, leave his mansion and join the fight.

"Of course I worry. But I hope for good luck," he says. He hopes for a fast end to the fighting and the birth of a new, stronger Ukraine. He hopes for a country with more jobs, and more millionaires like him. "First we have to finish the war. Then we will look at what to do," he says.

Ukraine's supporters are also crowd-funding, raising $12 million for the country's defense ministry in the latest campaign. The support comes despite the country's fragile economy, falling salaries and weak currency.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
"There were many scenes that defied logic," writes OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw, who was one of the first international observers to arrive at the site.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
It's been building for months. And now, according to some, Russia has launched a "full-scale invasion" of Ukraine.
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Western leaders stepped up sanctions, but the Russian President shows no sign of backing down.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 4:37 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Information about Ukraine, the second-largest European country in area after Russia.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
ADVERTISEMENT