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Leonid Chernovetskiy interviewed by Gordon Boulevard, part 3

Part III

Continued. Beginning in issue No.??

Dmitry Gordon

GORDON’S BOULEVARD newspaper

 

“I don’t want to comment politics. You’d better ask me questions about the old ladies, whom I’ve always liked.”

 

-       You were elected to parliament of Ukraine four times, you were the Mayor of Kiev during six years (moreover, for the second term, you were re-elected during the early elections). That makes you a veteran, a heavyweight of Ukrainian politics. Do you think there is something special about it?

Just as in all post-communist countries of the former USSR: absolutely the same, nothing to talk about. I believe these countries need to get through a certain phase. Frankly, I don’t want to comment politics. Full stop!

 

-       Didn’t you feel sad resigning from the post of Mayor?

You’d better ask me questions about the old ladies, whom I’ve always liked. By the way, when I was a member of parliament, I used to say to my colleagues, “Don’t forget to call your parents.”

 

-       That’s a good phrase, fundamental…

Well, at that time my mother wasn’t feeling well: if I didn’t call her, her entire day would be ruined.

There was one old and funny communist parliament deputy, who detested me. One day, I was making a speech talking about market economy and democracy, and he began to approach the stand to push me away. He was way over the hill. All of a sudden his mobile phone began to ring, and other deputies shouted to him laughing, “You didn’t forget to call your parents today, did you?”

You can’t win affection of elderly people by gifts or food. You need to like them and be sincere with them, care about them. As for my feelings about resignation, I had two controversial reactions. On the one hand, it was hard to leave – I’m not talking about the moment of my formal resignation, but when weird things began to happen, when I began to lose power…

-       Was it vanishing like sand through fingers?

 

Yes, you can say that. That was the time when people of Kiev were being tricked into thinking that Kiev was a mess, that they could only vote for a lunatic in a mayoral election; the sad thing is that this campaign was started by the democrats. At first, I tried to hold the power, I called the president, and the prime minister. But soon I thought that I can’t effectively operate in hierarchy, this isn’t me. I hate all those meetings, memos, brainwashing…

-       Manuals…

 

When I decided to run for mayor, my understanding was that I would have full authority. How many mistakes did I make? Plenty of them.

-       Mistakes are natural.

 

Exactly. You don’t make mistakes if you do nothing. The problems began to surface in 2008 as the result of the global crisis. Before the crisis, Kiev’s budget was large: by implementing a set of measures, I increased it from 5 to 25 billion hryvnas. I introduced monthly allowances…

-       …only for old women…

For old men as well. The purpose of these actions wasn’t about bribing (although it was a good PR move), it was more about the distribution of income. As I always said, Kiev is the city of contrasts, it attracts the most talented and smart people from all parts of Ukraine, 20% of Kiev residents are extremely rich, and the rest are under pressure from newcomers, who are willing to work for smaller wages and thus cause inflation. Many people have poor living standards. What shall we do? Limit migration, as the EU countries do, to prevent unnecessary competition for jobs? But it would be impossible to impose limitations of this kind in one country, yet it’s possible to arrange income distribution. I think it should be a must for all capitals of the former Soviet countries, where wealth and poverty co-exist. Europe has already passed this phase, but our conditions demand providing care for those living in extreme poverty. That’s why, as I always said, wealthy people should…

-       …share…

 

Yes, and by the way most wealthy people wouldn’t mind. A single dinner in their favorite restaurant costs more than a poor old woman’s monthly pension. That’s why rich people should have higher utility rates. There are approximately 600,000-650,000 underprivileged people in Kiev, who deserve to get…

-       …benefits…

 

Not just benefits, they should be exempted from paying utility bills whatsoever. I think this is right and fair. Do you know what my biggest personal tragedy was?

-       Crisis?

 

Not really, although construction projects stopped, there was no money to cover even the basic needs. The winter devastated me, all my desires disappeared. Few people know the truth about the winter of 2010 in Kiev, so maybe I should speak about it in the Gordon’s Boulevard section. Because of the approaching presidential elections, district heads politicized and forced street cleaners to distribute promo materials, to promote various candidates. I couldn’t interfere, I had no authority (by the way, it was my idea to eliminate district councils in Kiev, I think they serve no purpose). But people of Kiev held me responsible, they didn’t know what was really going on, so when the number of accidents began to grow…

-       …when ice began to fall on people’s heads…

 

…they cursed me, but it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t have a single street cleaner whom I could give orders (by the way, I think street cleaners are essential for a city like Kiev, I think they should earn two or three times more money, I wish I had been able to increase their wages). I was overwhelmed, something cracked inside me. Of course I worried a lot. I hate being powerless, but I saw no solution…

“I like jokes and and I like to laugh at myself. But it’s different when they portray me as a drug addict or lunatic…”

 

-       What is your opinion about Alexander Popov, the current head of the Kiev City Administration?

 

His contribution to Kiev’s welfare is significant.

-       There was a lot of hope in the potential of your young team. No wonder the guys from “95th Kvartal” show liked to parody you, “I and my young team…” Did you feel offended by those parodies?

At first I felt offended by their jokes, but actually I like jokes and I like to laugh at myself. But it’s different when they portray me as a drug addict or lunatic… Of course I’m different, I’m unlike anyone else, but I feel sad when I see my former co-workers inventing all sorts of stories. For example, about a month ago, one of the national TV channels reported that I brought prostitutes to the meetings of the Kiev City Council, took drugs in public. Total BS! It’s not true and unfair. But who am I to judge all the liars, evildoers and enviers, I forgive them. On the same channel there was a video about my mother-in-law Sofia Zhukototanskaya, they mocked the death of her son (Pavel was attacked by three people on the street and eventually died in hospital – D.G.). Did you watch this garbage?

-       No…

 

What kind of journalism is that? Horrible! A woman’s son was murdered, and they make a TV show. Don’t they feel ashamed, those people? Where is their morality?

And there was another story how I stole $300 million from my maid – all the channels and newspapers circulated it as if they really believed it. It’s horrible. No rules.

As for parodies, it’s humor, so it’s supposed to be funny. I’m glad there are talented people in the “95th Kvartal” show. My respect.

-       Do you like Zhenya Koshevoy who portrays you?

 

He is a nice guy, he knows what he is doing, he is funny.

-       What do you say to him, when you meet?

 

I met him only once, when he was in a restaurant with Zelensky and his team. They are doing a great job, I’m amazed! So what they call me an Astronaut: I’m different from other people, but I’m a man with principles and me and my conscience are on very good terms. As for my young team, most of them were talented and open people: we held public hearings and, as I see it, did many useful things.

-       Do you still keep in touch with your former deputies Oles Dovguy, Denis Bass and Irena Kilchitskaya?

 

Yes, I know how they are doing.

-       Did anybody betray you when things became dicey?

 

They did nothing bad to me.

-       Is that true you haven’t signed a single document while being a Mayor?

 

Nonsense! The point is I understood the significance of every document and knew which one was more important.

-       But there must have been piles of those documents, and the risk of putting your signature to a paper without fully understanding it was considerable?

Yes. But, first, I like to establish procedures, i.e. any document would have to be approved several times, and second, I mostly signed documents passed by the Kiev City Council, a collective body. From the communists’ point of view, it’s all wrong, because they oppose privatization, but from the point of view of the efficient market economy, it’s absolutely right, I would do the same today, if I had to. There is an opinion that privatization is not in the interest of the people of Kiev, but privatization is an essential element for any nation. The government will always face problems, so long as it keeps various businesses in public property. For instance, in Kiev there are about 2,000 utility companies and they are all unprofitable. Why shall we keep them? We must privatize everything, agree to any price a buyer can offer. Europe is already moving in this direction: Greece is selling eveything it can, Spain… That’s the reason they are in crisis – because they were so reluctant to release their hold of these assets. Business is for business people, and the government should be above the business, making regulations and…

-       …collecting taxes on time…

 

What we are currently dealing with is a situation in which public enterprise is headed by a crook who lives in luxury but reports losses. We must eliminate these inefficiencies by privatization.

“Ukrainian politics saw many unusual people but there wasn’t another person like myself”

 

-       Today, Ukraine is plagued by corruption. I’m sure a person with a sharp mind like yourself knows what measures need to be taken to right this wrong. Georgia somehow managed to defeat  corruption: it’s not as gross as it used to be. What do you think should be done in Ukraine?

 

Many things (smiles).

-       What 5-step action plan would you suggest?

 

Wide-scale privatization – that’s the main step. Arrange tenders and sell everything. Then these companies will go public, we’ll have stocks, bands (BollingerBands is a technical analysis tool for financial market, which demonstrates current variance of price of securities, goods or currency – D.G.), which will live their own lives. We need investors!

-       As a veteran of Ukrainian politics, you have come across many of your fellow politicians. Who impressed and appealed to you most?

 

There have been many unusual people, but there wasn’t another person like myself (smiles).

-       There’s a rumour that you are especially close with Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s most discreet politician and the most successful businessman.

 

Not really.

-       But they say that you are close friends…

 

I think that he is an honest person with principles.

-       What is the best Ukrainian president since independence?

 

Each president made his own contribution in the development of Ukraine, each of them made mistakes and had achievements.

-       You have a very high opinion about Mikhail Gorbachev. Would you like to meet him in person?

 

I know everything about him, I can sense who he is as a person and as a politician, I understand his motives: he is a great democrat, he never pursued personal interests. The problem he encountered was that his vision of the country’s future didn’t quite match the reality, but he didn’t give up and never betrayed his principles. The result was the collapse of the Soviet Union, but only history can tell if it was a good or a bad thing.

-       Many curse Gorbachev for what has happened…

 

These are dense people who know nothing about politics. It doesn’t occur to them that they live in the same time with the greatest man, a historical figure, who gave them and their children a chance to live in the independent democratic country with market economy, to become masters of their future… The fact that it’s not all milk and honey is a completely different story. Ukraine will become a democratic and social country, where people will enjoy European standards of living, and Gorbachev should take big credit for this, he is a great reformer!

 

-       He once told me that there are no happy reformers…

 

Maybe so…

 

“Earlier, I used to worry about my image and I enjoyed power. But I can’t say that I feel flattered when I think about it now.”

 

-       You have always been a very creative person, you could do something bold and extravagant, which other more reserved politicians considered inappropriate. You sang, made peculiar speeches, and you looked like a real person made of flesh and blood, not a product of political consultants. Internet videos with your public speeches have hundreds of thousands of views. Do you think of yourself as a celebrity?

 

Earlier, I used to worry about my image and I enjoyed power: power is delicious, so to speak. I liked to take a walk on the streets of Kiev: people would approach me, we talked about various issues, I recorded their complaints and when I returned to the City Hall, I gave the recording to my subordinates and demanded a solution. That was my life, I was proud that people of Kiev knew me, that I was famous. People wanted to take pictures with me, asked my autograph, what a life! But I can’t say that I feel flattered when I think about it now. I’ve become detached from this topic, I don’t get a kick out of it, so the reason we are having this conversation is not because I seek publicity, we are just talking about life.

I agreed to have this interview, because I know you are an honest man. Journalists like to write trash about me, but you, I know, will write the truth – you have a reputation, I’ve watched and read many of your interviews. Sometimes I didn’t feel well, and they picked those particular moments to snap a picture. I don’t want to play a role, I am what I am. As for songs… Back in the Soviet time, I happened to be in a company of people I didn’t know closely. We kindled a fire and made barbecue, drank vodka (or maybe it was wine, I can’t remember exactly, but definitely not beer – I don’t like it). There was a guy I didn’t care for at first, but when all of us were a bit drunk, he began to sing, and I saw him as a completely different person, I even liked him. Through a song you can look inside a person, see the essence, the soul.

-       I couldn’t agree more.

 

By the way, I’m a quite a good signer.

-       I can see that you are very fit. I remember a video I saw on TV where you did pull-ups, and I was impressed: not every young man drafted to the army can show such results. How many pull-ups can you do now?

 

At least 25, I can show you right now.

-       How often do you exercise?

For 40 years now, I’ve been doing intense morning exercises, it takes me 60-90 minutes. I used to do jogging, but no I begin to have some back pains, so I swim and do some gymnastics exercises.

-       What is the most preposterous gossip you have ever heard about yourself?

 

I don’t want to repeat them.

-       Your critics claimed there was a connection between you and Sunday Adelaja of the Embassy of God. Can yo comment on this?

 

I can say that I’m not a traitor, I have an opinion of my own about every person I’ve met and liked (besides, I have little time to meet with people casually)… I have an eye on people: I hired thousands of them and most of the time I could see precisely what kind of person I was dealing with. The face and the eyes tell you everything, but some people, including myself, can hear it, and others are deaf.

-       Is that right you have never ever erred when making an opinion about a person?

 

Not a single time. The cost of my mistake would be enormous, of the global magnitude. I forgot what point I was trying to make.

-       You said that you’ve never formed a wrong opinion about people.

 

And…

-       And that makes you a nice person.

 

Ok, so be it. But I repeat that I have an eye on people and can spot a bastard in a second.

“In our country Sunday Adelaja is a resident alien, whereas in fact he is as great a preacher as renowned Martin Luther King.”

 

-       You also highlighted that you are not a traitor. I think that this is an achievement in its own right.

 

You asked me about Adelaja… I used to go to his church for some time: I was going through a dark phase, I had problems with the authorities (I was member of parliament then), I had a number of family issues to resolve. After I listened to the sermon, I believed there is God and everything in my or any other person’s life is at his mercy. All you can do is pray and forgive your enemies.

-       Are you sure about that?

 

One hundred percent sure. I always read the Bible and pray every day.

 

-       Are you still a believer?

 

Only a stupid person can be an unbeliever. All great people believed in God: Einstein (although it’s impossible to imagine the infinity of the universe), Newton, everybody. How else can you explain the origin of our world? A monkey turned human? There is a missing link between the two. Besides, humans are spiritual creatures, but that’s another story.

Adelaja is an innocent and very religious person, great preacher. But he preached Protestant values which most people in Ukraine do not understand. Protestantism is based on a word, on preaching – In the Soviet times, you would go to prison for this, because words always pose a threat to a totalitarian government. By the way, 48% of the population of the USA, the richest country in the world, are Protestants; all American presidents except Kennedy were Protestants. In our country Sunday Adelaja is a resident alien, whereas in fact he is as great a preacher as renowned Martin Luther King: his sermons are fascinating, filled with life stories about God, he is so convincing. But he made one error.

Back in the Russian Empire, a priest was once tried in court, and he was defended by the great defense lawyer Plevako, who said…

-       “Dear jury. Here sitting in front of you is a man who has been forgiving your sins for 30 years. Would it be fair if you refuse to forgive him his sin?”

 

Yes, perhaps there way one sin, but Sunday is not the kind of person who would steal from his congregation. Such accusations have no grounds, they are provocative. The problem is that like any preacher he is very trusting, and he believes that all people earn their living honestly, i.e. according to the Bible.

God can bless any person with any talent. I don’t want to have a debate about it, it’s all too complicated. Sunday saw that many people from his congregation were very poor and he prayed to God to give them money. And that was the moment when he became a victim of the crooks who persuaded him that there was a way to make everybody rich quickly. That’s how I think it happened, but I didn’t discuss it with him…

-       In other words, he is a little bit naive?

 

In financial and commercial matters – yes, absolutely. There were always some crooks trying to trick him into something, and sometimes he asked me to tell him my opinion about them…

-       …and you can always see through ill-intentioned people…

I told him what people to avoid. The day he met those crooks I was on a business trip or I had a meeting, I can’t remember exactly. Sunday’s problem is that most of his congregation are poor people, and he strongly believed that he found a way to make all of them rich, but eventually he got himself into trouble. It never even occurred to Adelaja that he could possibly take something which didn’t belong to him: the crooks simply took advantage of him. Moreover, the minister of Interior Affairs at the time hated Adelaja, and investigators made the founder of the King’s Capital company Alexander Bandurchenko testify against Adelaja, i.e. confirm that he got his share of the money. Adelaja would never take this money, he even never accepted money from me. Why didn’t he take money from me then? If somebody was going to make a donation to the church, he was never involved – as a preacher, he never touched the money.

I’ve known him for many years, and trust me, if I had only seen a him take money once, I would stop going to his church from that day. I often go to church, mostly Orthodox, but I’ve been to many churches around the world: I always speak to the priests and donate big sums of money. If the next time I come to the church I get some kind of special treatment from the priest, because he remembers my money, then I will never go to that church again.

I’m really sorry that Sunday has got himself into trouble. I’m sure he will never make the same mistake again.

-       One of your innovations (and I personally think it’s a very creative one) was the use of polygraph tests in Pravex Bank and the Kiev City Administration…

 

Not in the City Administration. The government strongly opposed the idea, they have their own hiring rules (smiles).

-       But do these tests really work?

 

Yes, in 96% of the cases the results are accurate. There are a number of indicators: heart beat, blood pressure, perspiration, and many other things. Even a small lie triggers a reaction!

It reminds me of a funny story which happened back In the Russian Empire. There was a world-famous Italian scientist named Lambrozo who could determine (mostly by examining a person’s head) if a person has criminal intentions. The tsar asked him to examine his key officials, who, according to Lambrozo, all had criminal intentions. There was a big scandal, but the sad truth is that all of them proved to be crooks. This is a true story by the way (smiles).

-       Did you turn people down based on polygraph test results?

 

I can’t remember how many, but yes, a number of people were turned down. In fact, you can do some really amazing things with this device. There once was a story when a cashier stole $20,000 in cash – she was fed up being a salaried employee. She claimed that somebody put her under hypnosis and took the money. The polygraph held to reveal that she had a lover and she stole the money…

-       Without hypnosis?

 

Forget hypnosis, she was deeply in love…

In the USA, if there is no substantial evidence to prove you are not guilty, and chances are the jury can give you a life sentence, or even death penalty, then you have the right to take polygraph tests.

-       Really?

 

And the test results will have equal force as all other evidence. Special services agents take polygraph tests routinely, they are used to it. Imagine a person applies for a job, and he proves to be a drug addict or a gambler…

-       Polygraph can tell you that?

 

Absolutely, you can’t fool it. It will tell me everything, even the colour of your car, for instance. But the machine can’t do much, unless you ask the right questions and avoid causing negative emotions unintentionally.

Polygraph tests proved that the cashier was guilty, but the woman refused to tell where she hid the money. So I said, “Let’s put her in front of the map and point to various districts: once we get a reaction, we can start giving streets named.” But she refused to continue taking polygraph tests. The court found her not guilty, as if she was really under hypnosis, but I’m sure she gave some of the money to the right person in the police.

-       Did people often betray you?

 

I’ll say it again: I have an eye on people. No, I haven’t been betrayed. I think it’s very frustrating when a person you trust begins to show you some bad features of his or her character – this is terrible!

“My father-in-law used to be a shadow entrepreneur in Georgia – a very unusual person, smart and grand personality, although without formal education.”

-       Alina Stepanovna Aivazova was your wife for almost 35 years, you had a very beautiful relationship. Is that true that your father-in-law, a man with connections, helped you advance your career? By the way, I heard that your former mother-in-law still likes you a lot.

 

I also still like and respect her, as well as my ex-wife – mother of my children and a person with whom I lived the biggest part of my adult life. She used to be and still is one of the most important encounters in my life: faithful, committed to family and beautiful woman. I wish we didn’t have to break up.

My father-in-law used to be a shadow entrepreneur in Georgia – a very unusual person, smart and grand personality, although without formal education.

-       Was he rich?

 

Yes, he used to be very rich. But it was still in the Soviet times when he lost all the money and died in poverty: if we hadn’t helped him, there would have been no money to pay for his funeral.

-       Is that true he opposed the idea of you and Alina getting married, because he thought you were poor?

 

Yes, he often told my wife before we got married, “With him you will die in poverty.” Because I had nothing, I was a Soviet everyman.

 

From Leonid Chernovetskiy’s book “Story of Success”

 

Why was I doing everything I did? What was my motivation, when I got excellence awards in the army, a diploma with honours from the Kharkiv Law Institute? Many years had passed before I got an answer: it was in the early 1970s when I went through a turning point in my life.

 

It was during my student years, when I met a girl with big and beautiful eyes: we sat behind the same desk during lectures, and I fell in love, like in a romantic novel. Alina was only 17, and I was 22, a pushy young guy full of emotions, who began to hit on her frantically. But she had an agreement with her father, whom she loved deeply: her husband had to be an Armenian, because her father, an Armenian living in Georgia, wouldn’t approve another choice.

 

At first Alina refused to go on dates with me. But I was a promising student, one of the best in the institute, and I helped Alina in her studies. By the way, my good results surprised me: I hate school as intensely as I love college, and I think that Kharkiv Law Institute was one of the best among the Soviet law schools (many years later, after I became a millionaire, I visited my alma mater and I can say that it its traditions remained intact).

 

But let’s get back to my first victory. I loved Alina so much, I couldn’t breathe without her, I always had to know she was beside me, and she was beside me. Sometimes Alina got mad at me and went to sit in the back rows, but I could still sense her presence…

 

First we met in the library – it was maximum I was allowed, and then I began to accompany her on her way home. Once I took her hand – we had been dating for 8 months already – but she pulled it away. I asked her, “Is that true nobody ever held your hand?”

“I swear, nobody,” she replied.

Then we began to go to the movies…

 

When her father learned that we were dating, it blew his mind. He was a very important person. By the way, Georgians are a holly people. They have so much dignity and hospitality: they will give up everything to make their guests feel comfortable.

 

I remember how my mother and I came to Tbilisi to propose, and Alina’s father was like a rock. He looked at me closely sizing me up… At that moment I already had a diploma with honours, I was almost  deputy prosecutor, senior investigator. According to the local traditions, my mother and other female relatives began to admire me, and I was in good physical shape, wearing police pants, as I worked in the Interior Affairs. My striped uniform pants were pressed, I was very neat, and my future father-in-law really liked it. “That’s what I call a real man,” he said. But he said something completely different to his daughter.

 

Somehow, he knew that I wasn’t the kind of person who would take bribes: I guess he saw it in my eyes, although I could tell him if he only asked. In those years, Georgia was plagued by corruption, there were legends about it. By the way, this explains the unrest the country had to go through after the revolution: the new government attempted to break the old tradition, and many didn’t like it. I got a little carried away… So, Alina’s father looked at me and said to his daughter, “Remember: you were raised in luxury, but with him you will live in poverty for the rest of your life.”

 

We got married in Tbilisi. Everything I later accomplished was my gift to my wife. Thanks to Alina, I have a son and a daughter. I once told her, “So what if you have only one dress. Look how lucky you are to have a husband like me!” Eight years later, Alina’s father came to visit us – it was the last time I met him (God bless his soul). There was an electric bulb with no shade under the ceiling, walls were covered with old flaky wallpaper. But how could I make more money? At that moment my father-in-law reminded me of our conversation.

 

What helped us make both ends meet was the car (I moonlighted as a private taxi driver after my business hours as an investigator at the prosecutor’s office), a wedding gift from my father-in-law, and also the fact that we moved to Kiev in the late 1970s.

“Yes, I used to drink a lot, I had fights and good chances of becoming an alcoholic.”

-       Did you read that very emotional interview your wife gave to the Segodnya newspaper?

I think that she was under stress when she gave that interview. I’m sure she wishes she had never said all those things, my ex-wife is a good person.

-       Among other things, she mentioned, “If I hadn’t been around, Lenya would have become an alcoholic living in dumpster.” Was her contribution in your life really that big?

 

For many, many years, she was the most important person in my life. I loved my wife passionately, it took me ages to win her affection – we had a beautiful relationship. I used to tell her stories about my childhood, about my drinking problems: before I was drafted to the army, I had good chances of becoming an alcoholic.

-       No way!

 

Yes, I used to drink a lot, I had fights, because my nervous system is volatile. Alina was a real motivator for me: she came from a rich family, and I wanted to prove her that I was the man of her life, not her father, I did my best to reach this goal.

-       Do you think she still loves you?

 

Let’s not talk about this.

From Leonid Chernovetskiy’s book “How to Become a Millionaire”:

 

“I think I made a big mistake when my wife and I became business partners. Both of us come home late and begin to exchange information. Slowly but decisively we began to pursue different goals. Imagine a scene: I have dinner and my wife shows me some documents, tells me stories about her business, and I’m not as interested as I used to be. So we began to have fights, but more importantly, a conflict of interests occurred.

 

Our relationship was almost ruined – business has to be impersonal. Fortunately, one day I told her, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. It’s all yours now.” And she did fine.”

-       Considering all the changes in your personal life, do you feel you are a happy person?

 

Isn’t that obvious? I have a pretty, kind and wonderful wife – this is important to me. So I feel great.

“Dull people don’t attract attention, it’s only the great who inspire awe or hate.”

 

-       You have two successful children and many grandchildren. Do you have enough time to visit them? Are you a good father and grandfather?

 

I live with my wife Elena, my life is filled with new ideas, projects and activities. I love my children and I devoted the bigger part of my life to them, shared with them my best and strongest feelings. My children are adults now, they have lives of their own; my son is a good, honest, kind and bright person, he has a lot of friends – I never had so many friends…

-       A cordial person.

 

Everybody likes him – he will achieve a lot. My daughter is an mature person, I always wanted her to have a good loving husband (I repeat: a loving husband, not necessarily rich). As long as their families live in peace, as long as they are all right, I don’t get involved, I mean it’s like they are living in a parallel world. My grandchildren hardly know me: I can’t say I want to spend every second of my life with them. God has so much in store for me! Should something bad happen to my children, I will abandon everything, I will come and spend the rest of my life with them. Although I really like what I’m doing now…

-       You enjoy every moment of your life…

 

Of course. I have potential and I want to achieve a lot. To live my life to the fullest, fulfil every single thing I’m capable of. That would be fantastic!

-       Maximalism…

 

I care a lot about my wife, we often have conversations. Sometimes we talk about nothing, just to spend time together. I love Lena and I’m happy with her – in my case it’s not a cliché.

-       You used to read a lot. Do you have time for books now?

Unfortunately, no. I give all of my time to business.

-       Today, you are detached from politics, you don’t depend on anybody, you are free from obligations, you can do anything you want. What are your interests in business, if it’s not a secret?

 

I’m not sure most readers would be interested to know, but I’m impressed with the latest technologies, I’m impressed with grand ideas in general. Thanks to a computer (I strongly suggest to all people who are not familiar with it that they start using it), I could see amazing things. I always felt sad that I had to part with smart, talented, creative (and very often high-paid) people, whom I hired personally. I wish I could get them back to work on my new projects.

Now my goal is to find ideas, new or old, that can be replicated in all former Soviet countries: I can see huge potential here and I’m already involved in many such projects. Hundreds of people are working with me, we pay them salaries of $1 million per month combined. Not all of them live in Ukraine; computers help me to monitor all the processes, and I’m so excited about it. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time in politics.

-       You really think it was the time wasted?

 

Absolutely, although I do believe that I had an interesting and exciting life. Few people can experience what I’ve lived through. Of course, you can find reasons for criticism, dull people don’t attract attention, it’s only the great who inspire awe or hate. I have no doubts that I have accomplished a lot in politics, and I assure you that many of my initiatives will continue to live.

If you visit my website, you will see how many laws I authored in parliament, how many ideas I promoted across Ukraine. It’s unbelievable, and many of them will be put to practice, we just need to wait for the right time to come. I set a standard for Ukrainian politicians of the future: absolute openness. And people liked me this way, they trusted me (today all sorts of stories are being circulated, and I even don’t know how to defend myself. And frankly, I don’t even want to know: time will show who was right). I don’t regret a single day, I don’t wish I had lived my life differently. Everything was just the way I wanted it, but if I had to go in politics again, I wouldn’t do it, unless it was a country with fair laws, not corrupted by lack of political culture.

-       Do such countries exist?

 

There are democratic countries, Dmitry, where such laws are in place, and many billionaires occupy important public positions. For example, Michael Rubens Bloomberg…

 

-       … a businessman and the 108th Mayor of New York…

…whose net worth is $22 billion, and New Yorkers adore him.

 

“I have accomplished all of my goals and I have many plans.”

 

-       Rich people in the USA command a great deal of respect…

There are many other examples. Once, when I was in Switzerland, I had a female guide, who used to be a court judge in the USSR. I asked her, “Why did you quit your job? Today, judges take enormous bribes, you could be a millionaire.”

To which she smiled sadly and said, “Imagine a watch mechanism (the Swiss are good at watch making, aren’t they – L.C.), where one wheel starts to rotate backwards. What will they do to this wheel? It will be eliminated. I wouldn’t be able to work in such a framework.”

-       This is really sad.

 

It’s a problem. I don’t want to extrapolate this story to what I went through. I’ll just say that you can’t be an honest career politician in a country lacking the basic fundamentals of democracy: constitution, laws, courts. All you’d have to do is follow the laws and win people’s trust…

-       …and become successful. Do you think of yourself as a successful person?

 

Definitely. All my endeavours eventually reached their culmination points. But I can’t say I was a successful politician. I was very successful as a member of the Verkhovna Rada, that’s true, but as for the Mayorship… I think it wasn’t the right place for me: it’s not the type of country where Chernovetskiy should be mayor of the capital.

-       If you had to draw a line today, would you say you’ve achieved all of your goals, or you have something else ahead?

 

I have accomplished all of my goals and I have many plans. I’d like to say it one more time: I’m hiring the most talented people, I want to let them make good money, so they could start their own business. My priority is not to make money for myself (although I will earn my share working them), but to provide a starting point in their lives., teach them values and how to organize business processes. I want to be remembered for something meaningful, although most I’ve already done will be long remembered.

-       I think you are a historical personality in your own right, whether you want it or not…

Maybe so, but I have another equally important cause: philanthropy. If you are a philanthropist, you have two options: help people without any system, or provide help with consistency and continuity, by launching long-term initiatives which will outlive their founder (I’m talking about starting long-term charity programs). The second option is more appealing to me. My goal is to stimulate people to donate money, to reach every person who needs help, to attract as many sponsors as possible. It’s important to me that all these people begin to care about the underprivileged, those who are desperate.

-       Are you a happy person now?

 

I’ve always been a happy person.

-       Even when you were broke?

 

I was even happier then (smiles).

-       …because you were young?

 

Because I had many goals which I eventually reached.

-       Is it possible that you may one day return to politics? At least in theory…

 

I’m not going back, although you never know what God has for you. I don’t even think about politics and I feel frustrated when I read about it. But I need information, so I often feel sad, but all my thoughts are focused on business and philanthropy…

 

“If I live to a very old age, I will ask my children not to put on my grave a photo, where my face will like a squeezed lemon. A person has to be remembered the way he or she looked in his or her prime.”

 

-       Is that true that you recently bought almost an entire cemetery?

 

Nonsense! One day, when I was thinking about how to bury my mother, I asked Omelchenko, the Mayor of Kiev at the time, to grant me a spot as a member of parliament. Because I know that finding a place may be problematic, I wanted to save my children from this trouble. Later I tried to make funerals free for most people of Kiev: I know that many are so poor they have no enough money to pay for their funeral. If you want to get a spot in one of Kiev’s central cemeteries, you have to pay a bribe of somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000. Why not make it an official source of income for the city budget and provide help to those who need it?

-       It’s better not to die at all…

 

Yes, but I eventually came to conclusion that I’d have to pay for a place. So I made a call, met with some crook from the Baikovoye cemetery, who showed me a beautiful place. It’s right next to the grave of Scherbitsky. And then the guy says to me, “It will cost you $5,000.”

-       No way!

 

Yes. But I can’t remember if I gave him any money…

-       I guess you did…

I doubt it (smiles). I wouldn’t want to break the law. But I still have a place there, tell me if you need one.

I had decent funeral service after my mother died. I never wanted a family vault – it’s tacky. I ordered a beautiful gravestone, but the only man she ever loved isn’t buried next to her…

My mother was a very practical person, and I think that my father, kind and honest man, had hard time living with her. I guess I took after my mother as far as business is concerned, but I’m more like my father in terms of character features. On the opposite side of the gravestone I put my father’s photo, and now they are together: when I come to the grave, I can see both of my parents…

They are both young on these photos: my mother hated being old, she was very beautiful and she felt sad watching her beauty fading away. That’s why I picked photographs where my mother is 36 or 37 (just after I was born), and my father is a captain wearing military uniform right after the war. I think it’s wrong putting a photograph of an old person on the gravestone: people shouldn’t be remembered this way… If I live to a very old age, I will ask my children not to put on my grave a photo, where my face will like a squeezed lemon (today I look all right, but who knows…). A person has to be remembered the way he looked in his or her prime.

-       Would you like to be buried next to your mother?

 

I don’t care, I never thought about it.

-       I hope you won’t have to think about it for many years to come…

I don’t care about the gravestone my children will put on my grave. The stone is for those who bury: it should inspire good memories and delight. I want to be remembered after I die, and I don’t mean publicity (journalists can write about me whatever they wish), I mean things I have done. Because I’m a man of business.

-       Leonid Mikhailovich, I would like to thank you for this amazing interview. I really like the way you sing, and I’m being honest now. You do it with sincerity and candour, and it is very appealing. It would be very kind of you to sing at the end of our conversation.

 

This is a tricky suggestion (smiles). I’m not sure if I can do it well, but there is one song about the holy Seraphim of Sarov and the Diveyevo monastery in Russia, where many people come for healing. I don’t know if they actually get cured…

-       …but they keep coming…

 

Well, those who believe must be getting it. Ok, I’ll try to sing a couple of couplets. (Sings):

Where the holy angels sing

Godly unearthly songs,

An angelic cathedral stands.

The queen, mother of God,

With the cover of God’s grace

Keeps the sisters out of trouble.

Here people come to see the Blessed,

Walking the roads of the Russian land,

They go to the relics with the name of Christ,

Bearing love and faith in the hearts,

To find the door to salvation,

Walk through the Royal Gates.

And the refrain:

Father Seraphim,

Pray for sinners!

May the Lord send us all

Purity of heart

Father Seraphim,

Pray for our health!

Help us to live in love,

Help us to live righteously.

Our Dear Reverend Father,

Our spiritual helmsman,

Here, everything reminds of you.

All are warmed by your love.

In Diveyevo we are like children,

Become purer and kinder.

That’s the song. For those who will read this interview: don’t forget to call your old parents. It is the best any of us can do today – you may not have this chance tomorrow, and you would feel deep regret..

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