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Chernovetskiy interviewed by Segodnya, part 2

– What did you feel when you were ousted from power in 2010?

– I wasn’t happy, but at the same time I realised that the new government has its own vision of running the city and I would have to live with it. But I wanted to be a free mayor. As I couldn’t do things my way, I didn’t oppose the ousting and let the new government do everything it could. I had a responsibility to the people of Kiev. The new government has done a lot. They completed the construction of interchanges and metro stations, huge sums of the budget money were spent. And that’s good for the city! And for the people of Kiev! When I used to be the mayor, the government took the money from the city. I have always been an odd man out for all the governments and could only count on myself. Today, this isn’t enough… In fact, it’s not as if something bad happened. I’m leaving with a sense of accomplishment. I let go my ego and don’t regret it.

– Why were you elected twice as a mayor of Kiev?

– Obviously, the people of Kiev voted for me not because of the buckwheat stories, and not based on my ethnic origin, or a language spoken to them, and not even on whether the mayor was born in Kiev. Had they used these criteria, I would have hardly got even one percent of the votes.

By the way, about the buckwheat… During the elections in 2006 and 2008, some politicians handed out food much more lavishly compared to me, but it gave them nothing. You can’t buy the people of Kiev for buckwheat! And soon (in the next parliament elections) this will become obvious to all candidates running for parliament in Kiev, who believed the media’s allegations saying that I was buying votes.

The people of Kiev wanted an open-minded, unselfish person driven by their issues – a hands-on politician, who was involved in philanthropy. Did they think I was the right kind of person, and why two years later, in 2008, I was re-elected as a mayor and got even more votes?

Indeed, I was just the right kind of a person! Before I became a mayor, I won three times in Kiev during the parliament elections to Verkhovna Rada. There, I prepared more bills than any other member of parliament, and some of those bills were about public benefits. I was the author of the Law on Morality, I made numerous amendments to the most important laws that were discussed in the Parliament back then. My speeches in Verkhovna Rada always sparkled the public’s interest. For example, I demanded that the government should only use domestically made cars, I suggested cutting the car fleet maintenance costs, I fought against the rampant corruption in Ukraine, government officials’ lack of integrity, etc.

When I was a member of parliament, I gave the people of Kiev powerful tools to let them fight for their rights with the Kiev City Administration officials. In one day, my office received and responded to thousands of requests, and in some cases, where the collective rights of the whole district needed protection, I went on the site myself to examine the problem personally, I often led pickets before the Kiev City Administration and achieved solutions.

– What is your relationship with Denis Bass, Oles Dovgy and Irena Kilchitskaya?

– We get along fine!

– Members of your team are often accused of being involved in illegal privatisation of land?

– “Illegal” – no! You can take my word for it! If they were involved in privatisation, it was their decision. I think they did it legally. Although in Ukraine’s economy it is hard to define “legal”. You should try to write an enforceable contract! This is a big problem for the country, and the number of investors willing to participate in privatisation is falling, which is bad for the economy of Ukraine. For example, just a few days ago Verkhovna Rada passed a law on privatisation of land by legal entities, introducing the rule of auction. This is a very apt decision! But before that there were so many letters sent to the parliament about this issue. And there was no reaction whatsoever!

Previously, when I was the mayor, these issues were not regulated by law, and often land went to those with more power and information. But it wasn’t me who came up with these rules and I had no authority to cancel them. Speaking about privatisation, I believe that all profit-driven companies in Ukraine should be privatised. Without exception. I know that the public sector is plagued with embezzlement and corruption, and this results in low wages for ordinary workers. This is not endemic in Ukraine – the problem exists even in the developed countries of Europe. That’s why the governments there are promoting privatisation: businesses must be run by entrepreneurs, not bureaucrats.

I strongly believe that land has to become a full–fledged product. Claims that it will be immediately bought up by foreigners or corrupt individuals, and people will have nowhere to live, are total nonsense. This is a primitive way of thinking. There have to be regulations, where you can’t just buy land and do nothing with it. And the people who already live on the land should be given special treatment. But this is a big topic.

As a banker, what do you think about the Ukrainian economy’s short-term prospects? What will happen to the hryvnia, the banking system? When will interest rates on loans go down? When interest rates on savings will rise? Do you think that the National Bank of Ukraine is right to keep the value of the hryvnia high?

– The economy of Ukraine, just as the economy of many other countries of the former Soviet Union, is virtually unpredictable. This will not change soon. For the stability and prosperity, Ukraine needs a full set of democratic instruments. Also, we desperately need total privatisation, including land, liberal tax laws, focus on the economic and political model of one of the most prosperous countries in Europe or Americas that all the people will understand: this model has to be promoted, so that the public identifies with it and helps the government to implement it.

The NBU is doing the right thing keeping the hryvnia’s value high. Otherwise, there will be chaos and our financial system will collapse, people will no longer trust the national currency, which, in my opinion, is like not trusting your own government, doubting the country’s sovereignty.

Interest rates on loans and savings are interrelated. The higher the interest on savings is, the higher the rates on loans will be. That’s because banks are simply money traders. They are go-betweens, who try, in the competitive environment, to earn a small profit on this trade for taking the risk of default on the loans they issue. The main income from savings goes to those who lend their money to banks. So for these people to make more money, those who take out loans must pay higher interest rates.

– You sold your bank, which was one of Ukraine’s five largest banks. What did you do with the money?

– To be honest, I haven’t decided yet. It’s quite a large sum, after all – $750 million. I invest in securities, real estate development, now I’m starting an investment fund to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs, scientists … and I want to make some money on it, of course. But my motivation is not the profit or money, and not even success, but rather the path to success. This is something I’m fully devoted to! The Internet excites me the most. This is something incredibly interesting and has fantastic prospects in terms of investment. I also start new charity projects.

Definitely I spend little on myself. I have everythingalready. I do not buy yachts, castles, jewels, I don’t throw money around. It just isn’t me. I believe that money shall bring in more money – work around the clock, create new jobs, get invested in business development and, of course, be donated to charity. Because, those businessmen, who are blind to the problems of other people, have no future. I believe in God and the fact that He sees how compassionate a businessman really is and helps in business those who wholeheartedly give a part of their soul to those who need help. I donate at least $1 million to charity every year, but I want to spend more.

– How did you start your bank? Alina Ayvazova told us that her father, Stepan Gariginovich, helped you a lot.

– That’s how it all began: I was the founder (together with two associate professors from the Shevchenko Kiev National University) of Pravex commercial consultancy and research centre. It was supposed to be a consultancy organisation, and we also acted as intermediaries dealing with orders for research work. Our first clients were joint ventures. I was one of the best and most expensive consultants in Ukraine. For example, in 1991 the head of one JV in Kharkov paid me $25,000 for one hour of consulting and he even wanted to pay me the same amount in cash on top of that, because he was impressed with my advice on how to get rid of foreign shareholders, who, according to him, did nothing to help him. But I refused because of vanity (it was foolish of me, of course, but that was my Soviet vanity speaking). That person was in the publishing business.

About a year later after I started business, I looked around and saw how many opportunities emerged with the advent of market economy. No matter where you looked all you could see was money. You just had to get over your laziness and pick it up. So in 1990–1991, without any partners, I started to open new businesses: financial services, retail, stock exchange, auctions, insurance, investment, security and many other companies. The culmination was creating a bank.

But it wasn’t the bank I was interested in. I was interested in the most powerful and at the same time social business. The career of a major banker, a financial executive… I was always interested in money, but it wasn’t my first priority. The bank was also interesting to me as a political tool: you’re always in the spotlight, and if your bank is large enough, the entire economy would depend on it. The public’s trust and power – that’s what I was interested in first and foremost. And there is nothing more powerful than bank if you look at it from this angle. Even if you have hundreds of thousands of employees and large plants with billions of profit, you still won’t have as much power as a major banker. On some days our currency balance sheet reached $10 billion. That’s what I call power! So I chose the bank. Its charter capital during registration was $50,000. But back then it was huge money for me!

By the way, profitability in the banking business – if your goal is to grab a bigger share of the market and be competitive – is quite low. I mean the money you can put in your pocket. So, that was how I worked – I spent everything on growth.

When I married his daughter, Stepan Ayvazov was no longer a rich man. He was broke. But in the Soviet times, during the 1980s, he helped my family every once in a while. My wife and I lived a very modest life. I often mention that for many years we even didn’t have a chandelier. There was just a big light bulb in the living room, and we had almost no furniture. But we were happy!

When Alina and I got into business in the early 1990s, we started to help him financially. He had a stroke and he was penniless. He couldn’t possibly help our business. Such rumours are mostly spread by coach potato losers, who would never believe that in most cases businessmen earn their money by themselves. And the history of business shows that during the last 10–15 years the largest fortunes were made by business “pioneers”. The market economy operates in such a way that there is always room for new ideas, new successful people. Otherwise the world would just stop.

After you sold your bank, where do you keep your money, valuables, and what’s your attitude to them in general? Today, there are many books and workshops on how to become wealthy, how to “whisper” the money. Do you have your own recipes?

– Naturally, I keep my money in reliable banks. I don’t have any valuables that require special storage conditions. I don’t “whisper” the money and I do not worship it. But I can give a piece of advice on how to become rich: you have to believe in yourself with passion, not be a quitter even if at first it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Spend little on yourself and invest all the money in your business. Never settle, keep growing. Do not envy your competitors but admire them, try to outperform them. Work round the clock. But this advice is for beginners in business. And that’s my advice for people, who are not in business: develop your talents (every person has one) to perfection and make money by using them to serve people.

– They say that money corrupts: people become greedy and cynical. Do you agree with this? For example, do you lend money?

– Bastards (as well as greedy or cynical people) are born. I do know it from my life. Usually, (although there are exceptions) money doesn’t corrupt. The problem is there are many people who want to get a share of your money. And if you don’t offer to share your money (“Do we have to ask?”, they think), then you are a bad person.

If a person gets rich, some people may think, “Crook! The money was stolen, or it’s just dumb luck.” Because it’s the only explanation when someone is doing business better than you do. Duh!

In fact, I lived the first 40 years of my life off my salary. When I started my own business and became a millionaire in 12 or 18 months, I noticed that many of my friends started to behave differently. Of course, my closest friends didn’t change. Many began to criticise me saying that I got arrogant, that I stopped visiting them as often as I used to, stopped going out for a drink, etc. But how could I explain that I was up to my ears in business, that I was blown away, and business replaced friends and everything else. That it was the only way for me to live. They couldn’t feel it because they weren’t businessmen.

There were those who immediately wanted to borrow money from me. At first I lent the money. But I started losing friends because of that. They started hating me because they had to give the money back. And nobody likes that. Then I changed tactics, and if I had to lend money, I didn’t set any deadline for paying it back. “You can pay me back once you have spare cash.” But the friendship still suffered. In 1993 a very close friend of mine borrowed from me about $5,000, and then changed his phone number and vanished. Five years later, I finally found him. So he told me that he was just about to give me a call and pay the money back to me. But I didn’t need that money. I missed him, I missed our friendship, and I asked to come and visit me. So we met and became friends again – I was lucky to find him. It is hard to make new friends when you work round the clock. The truth is I miss my old friends, many of whom have passed away, I miss my Soviet trouble-free life. I have many cherished memories from that time. If you are interested, I can tell you many stories and in a very emotional way.

Basically, here is the gist of my philosophy of helping others. You have to help those who really need it, and first of all, the elderly, the sick and abandoned children. As for other people, including friends, you should help get on their feet, unless they are sick or vulnerable. Never ever lend money to friends, otherwise you will lose them. Or you can give them as a present.

There’s one more thing! If you feel moved when reading this interview, then call your elderly parents immediately. Trust me, this would be the best thing you could do today.

– You said that you donate $1 million to charity. Why does this money go to the homeless before anyone else? How did you become engaged in philanthropy?

– When a disaster struck my family, I came to church to Sunday and saw hundreds of people with big financial problems, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless. Suddenly I was distracted from the business and I began to look at the world differently, to feel keenly not only my own pain but also the pain of others. It was Sunday who gave me the idea of ​helping the homeless, whom nobody likes and who disgust ordinary people, and nobody wants to help them (during the Soviet times, they were considered criminals, so today most people continue to despise them and think they do not deserve to live). I saw that the church collected donations for them: clothing, food. I thought that we could bring this to the absolutely new level. I have always been interested in scope! So I opened a dining facility, hired doctors and lawyers, who helped the homeless to recover their documents. We served 1,500 meals daily. I myself started to meet with these people – for a couple of hours during the weekend. Here I met a former colleague of mine – a person who used to be a chief of the investigation department of one of Kiev region’s district police departments, some ex-heads of different companies, all kinds of people. I never got the answer how they became homeless, and I think nobody knows what can make a perfectly normal and socially integrated person quit everything and become homeless. But I know for sure that they are PEOPLE! They have their own moral code, their own rules of behaviour, their own community. As in the “normal” society, there are good and bad people. They will never appreciate what I do for them, or anyone for that matter. Nine out of ten wouldn’t be able to readjust and return to the society. They voluntarily choose to be free and not bound by the rules. And perhaps there are ten percent of those who were forced to become homeless (they were kicked out of their apartment or fired). We help them get their normal life back. I became engaged into this because I wanted to show God that I served Him, so He could hear my prayers and help me solve my problems. So I can’t say I was totally unselfish in my relations with God.

Today I have another idea. I get many businessmen and average people involved in helping the homeless. And they do help – once they start doing it, they don’t quit. I spend almost $1 million every year, but they donate food, their services and other things which probably cost another $1.5 million. The sponsors include more than 500 legal entities alone. Which means they have heard God’s voice with my help and He will definitely never leave them now. That is how I see my mission: to get as many people involved in philanthropy as possible.

At the moment, we have three new Volkswagen minivans brining food to 20 locations throughout Kiev. And it’s nice food! People like it. Now I’m thinking of how to arrange special dining facilities for pensioners.

By the way, I rarely speak about it. I shouldn’t be talking about it now, but I just can’t help it. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished. I think this is the most important thing I have done in my life!

I am thinking to open such centres throughout Ukraine. And if anybody of your readers decides to open such a facility by him or herself, I’d be happy to help him or her out. I don’t need anything in return. There’s a wealth of experience. And I also want to say thank you to all philanthropists no matter what city they live in and what project they are involved in. These are true people! And it doesn’t matter why they do this.

– Tell us about your relationship with Sunday Adelaja? How did you come to his church and how did you become a believer?

– Like all other people, I turned to God after something really bad happened to me. When it seemed that nothing would help and we could only hope for God. And I found God through Sunday – I will always be grateful to him. He is a great preacher and a very kind, honest person! A real guru. Unfortunately, he is now in a big trouble, and there’s no way I can help him!

By the way, God has helped me – my problem is gone now! Religion without Faith is worthless. It is for stupid, ignorant people. To me, religion is the perversion of the Divine idea. It’s always about money, and by the way, very big money! I do not believe in rituals and all that.

With great pleasure I go to churches of all denominations. I love Catholic and Orthodox churches. But deep in my heart I always remain Orthodox (I was baptised) and I usually go to Orthodox churches and I cross myself. But this is a long story, and my philosophy of faith is a big topic.

– A few questions about your personal life. How did you meet your current wife Elena Savchuk? What did you like about her? Do you get along with her son Danil? Elena took your last name, which your first wife never did. Did you ask her to do it?

– About eight years ago I saw Elena and her 5–year-old son Danil in Sunday’s church. She was sitting next to me and her boy was asleep. I do not remember how it all happened, but I took the boy and he slept in my arms during the whole sermon.

I was immediately impressed with Elena’s good looks, the way she was dressed – modestly but with style. I remembered this… Time passed, and four years ago we met again at my birthday party. Then I asked her for a date, we started seeing each other and I started to learn more and more about her as a person: calm, balanced, altruistic (for me, this is very important) and, well, very pretty.

I get along perfectly with Elena’s son. Danil loves his father, but he also respects me. I love children. I’m crazy about my grandchildren! They are like an extension of me. And of course, I do love my children, Stepan and Christina. Other people see them as grownups, but for me, they will always be my children. I wish I could tell them more often how I love them. It is a bit awkward saying to them something like that. They are so independent.

I am glad that Elena took my last name, even though I never discussed that with her. It is a sign of trust, and I like it. Alina kept her last name, because has always been proud of it. In the Soviet times, her father was a very important person, and his name was well-known in Georgia. People of his generation in Georgia still remember my former father-in-law.

As for my last name, nobody heard of it not only in Georgia but also in Ukraine. I was just Lenya. But I desperately wanted to achieve success and earn respect in the eyes of Alina, her family and other people. And I think I did quite well! Now my daughter wants to keep my last name, because she loves and respects me. This is very nice. Certainly, she loves and respects her husband just as much (he is a very talented businessman and simply a kind, nice person), but still she is Chernovetskaya. In this regard she acts just like her mother, and they are very, very close.

– What is your most virtuous and most despicable deed? What are your regrets?

– I don’t regret anything! That’s true! If I had to live again, which I sincerely do not want to (Life isn’t all cakes and ale – trite but true), I would have repeated it one hundred percent. I guess it would take me a month to remember my most virtuous deed. I don’t have time for this. There were many deeds, although there could have been much, much more. That’s what I regret. But one shouldn’t dig too deep into one’s soul – that’s a bad idea. I did it once and I didn’t enjoy it.


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