The line of automobiles starts more than a mile away. as thousands of Ukrainians pour into the neighborhood of Mezhyhirya, about 10 miles from the center of Kiev. They are on a pilgrimage to see the palace of former President Viktor Yanukovych, a man on the run.
"Palace," it turns out, is an understatement. The massive estate is estimated at 340 square acres, with a main home, a guest house, an enclosed garage the size of an urban parking deck, a spa, a meeting hall, a zoo, a golf course, a ballroom (still under construction) and a galleon on the Dnieper River.
Nearly every interior surface of the palace is stamped with gilding. Inlaid floors, marble mantels, and phalanxes of statues adorn the rooms. A white baby grand Steinway stands at the ready in a yawning entertainment hall with 20-foot ceilings and winking chandeliers.
A coat closet bigger than many New York apartments still holds clothing—a half dozen men's dress coats in a palette of hues, many woven of fine cashmere. More casual coats bear labels by well-known European designers such as Loro Piana and Bruno Cucinelli.
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At any given moment, thousands of Ukrainians touring the property stand gaping and stunned. They all make the observation: So much wealth in a country so poor. Ukraine's per-capita gross domestic product was only $3,866.99 as of 2012, according to the World Bank.
Guarding the house is a volunteer militia—young men in their teens and 20s—sporting patchwork uniforms. They appear to have successfully protected it from looters, as the interior is in relatively undisturbed condition.
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Ukrainians aren't allowed into the main house, but the young militia give tours to journalists, including a group from CNBC.
"He thought he was the king," one of the guards, Alexey Tolovid, 21, said of Yanukovych. "But then, it all came to an end."
—By CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Follow her on Twitter