Kyiv fast food millionaire joins war effort: interview

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2014/08/02 • Featured, News

by Oleksandra Dynko

The owner of the Puzata Khata fast food chain, Viacheslav Kostiantynivskyi, is selling his Rolls-Royce to help the wounded in the war in eastern Ukraine. He discussed his motives with the Belarusian edition of Radio Svoboda.

Viacheslav Kostiantynivskyi , the owner of the well-known fast food chain Puzata Khata (pot-bellied house — Ed.), beloved by Belarusians, has become a soldier in a volunteer battalion and has put his Rolls-Royce up for sale in order to help fight the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Viacheslav is a partner in business with his brother Oleksandr. In 2013,  Focus magazine estimated the Kostiantynivskyi wealth at US $355m and placed them in the 44th place in the ranking of the richest people in Ukraine.

How much is your Rolls-Royce worth?

I think the current market value is around US $250,000.  People are calling and asking for the price. As usual, the buying and selling of cars is an every-day occurrence. I expect it will be sold in the next few days.

Why did you decide to sell the car, and what will you do with the money?

If you need to buy something urgently then you also need to sell urgently, especially if there is not enough money. For me today the Rolls-Royse is a useless thing. When we get the money, half will go to the military hospital to help the wounded and their families; the other half will go to equip the (combat) unit.

Viacheslav Kostiantynivskyi participated in both Maidans: in 2004 during the Orange Revolution and during the recent one. He says that “everyone helped” on the Maidan, and there is nothing unusual about it.

Perhaps not every average person will understand why such a big businessman like you would go to war and risk his life. Why are you doing this?

This is the way my parents brought me up. First, I don’t want to leave Ukraine. I don’t want to live in another country — I’ve tried it already. Secondly, it’s not a pleasant thing to realize that you are sitting in comfort while people are fighting for you.

Furthermore, I have a brother (Oleksandr Kostiantynivskyi). We have been arguing about this for a long  time because he wanted to go as well. We have 6 children between us. I was confident that he would look out for me, that he would manage my affairs, and that the children would be all right. This is why my decision wasn’t difficult.

You have been to the Donbas. Have you seen for yourself what is taking place? Where did this conflict come from?

The entire situation has been created artificially. For example, I’m a Russian-speaking Kyivite. Nobody on Maidan  ever blamed me for speaking Russian. A child can understand that the Russian-speaking population was never threatened. All this hysteria has been created artificially. It’s obvious that all these (military) groupings are being financed by somebody and supplied with weapons. This is useful for someone.

Why do people join the volunteer battalions?

I was only in one battalion and I am planning to go back. There are different people, good people, many are educated people who have small businesses. I didn’t see the big businessmen there. The atmosphere is very comfortable for me since the relationships are among regular guys, friendly. Although there are women volunteers as well. We had a female physician. There is a wide variety of people, but all are volunteers.

Have you taken part in the fighting?

Any person who is there in that area with a Ukrainian flag and weapons is already taking part. There are military operations where people put themselves at serious risk. But at any moment there can be a military clash even in a calm area. The terrorists have not gone anywhere. They are there,  sitting in the woods, among the “greenery.” Even if they are not at the central square of the city, they are close by. During the day, they can be in plain clothes, and in the evening they can take a grenade launcher and fire at a car. But, of course, I’m preparing to go back.

Are you prepared to fight? Have you been in the army?

I was in the army and I took special training before joining the battalion. We had a group called Kyiv Center. We began by controlling the looting after Maidan. The group trained intensively during all that time. And today the guys are ready to carry out different tasks.

The last time, I spent 10 days with the battalion. The battalion was redeployed and I understood that it was necessary to re-equip it,  to find out what is needed so we can be more effective. We need thermal vision equipment, night vision scopes, and many other things. This is why I took advantage of the time when the battalion was rotated out  to find more money, buy what is necessary and go back.

Kostiantynivskyi at the Cannes film festival

What is the reaction of the local population to the soldiers in the volunteer battalions?

In Sloviansk, for example, at first there were no people at all in the streets. Then every day more and more people came. There is a central square — it is the only place where you can charge your phone and where the internet is available. This is why people gather there. We spoke with the people. Many brought something, they wanted to treat us, they have a positive attitude. But there are people with a very negative attitude. These tend to be people of a certain “Soviet,” as we say, generation. Some are not very happy.

Russian propaganda often states that the Ukrainian army is ill-prepared. You’ve seen it with your own eyes — what do you think?

Of course, there are different cases. This is war. The army disintegrated over more than two decades. It cannot suddenly become battle-ready and updated.  Many things are lacking. The equipment is old, and many people lack sufficient experience. But this is offset by the fact that people want to learn. They have the fighting spirit. In fact, the Ukrainian army is being formed today.

What is your opinion of President Poroshenko’s actions during the course of the antiterrorist operation?

It’s hard for me to judge because I know that if a person takes on that kind of responsibility it is easy to criticize him, especially at a time when all this is happening in the country. This is not an easy job, I think. But I simply don’t know everything fully. Today you can either criticize or do something yourself. I think that if everyone starts to do something, everything will change.

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A Puzata Khata restaurant

We in Belarus find it painful to observe what is happening in Ukraine, but, of course, we apply it to our own situation. Our business people, especially from big business, do not dare support people who are eager for change. In your view, what must be done to change that?

I think that maybe people are doing this less openly in Belarus. Businesses cannot refuse to support this, since business development requires an entirely different relationship between business and the state. In Ukraine, especially during the recent Maidan, this was the breaking point. In other words, (the situation) became intolerable. The country was going nowhere, and business understood this most of all. It is degrading to be robbed openly. Corruption exists in all countries — somewhere more, somewhere less. But this kind of open robbery, the threats and the humiliation of people and businesses never existed in Ukraine before as it did under Yanukovych. This is why it resulted in more massive protests and strong support from business. There was nowhere else to go.

Translated by Anna Mostovych, edited by Myron Spolsky
Source: Radio Svoboda

 

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  • jmundstuk

    I don’t know whether to applaud or cry.

    • On the Balcony

      Both!

    • Donald Casavant

      Or laugh?