CHYNADIYEVO, Zakarpattya Region - Looking for a rock-solid investment in Ukraine with a minimum outlay and undeniable visual benefits?
It may be time to buy a country manor.
Don’t let a war in the nation’s far southeast corner deter you. Prices are low and investors are starting to queue up. And, with the government resolved to boost tourism, visitors are rediscovering historic sites.
For a little less than $15,000, you can choose between the 19th century neo-gothic Town Hall In Pomoryany, Lviv region, or a mansion that once belonged to composer Igor Stravinsky’s relatives In Ustyluh, Volyn region, near the Polish border.
But perhaps buying is not the option for you.
Take St. Miklos castle in Chynadiyevo -- northeast of the Carpathian border town of Mukacheve. Artist Yosyp Bartosh obtained a concession for the 14th century site and turned it into a cultural center.
The Hungarian government funded the restoration of part of the roof. Ukraine paid for the documents. The rest was taken on by the artist, his wife and a group of enthusiasts.
With dozens of visitors queuing at the castle’s entrance, Bartosh takes personal care of tour groups as they pass through the restored first floor -- six rooms and a hall with a large lobby displaying Celtic and Schythian artifacts and portraits of the castle’s owners.
“Anyone has a headache?” he jokes, picking up a medieval halberd, or pike. “We have a perfect remedy for just that sort of thing. A beautiful halberd, sharpened yesterday.”
Visitors are told of clothing and customs over the centuries and of the love story between owner Helena Zrinska and Imre Thököly, leader of a local uprising against Austria’s Habsburg rulers.
They also make their way through “secret passages” in the castle walls.
“You are now ghosts,” says a tour guide. “Only ghosts can go through the walls.”
Bartosh and his wife first raised money for restoration by holding an open air exhibit of artists from Ukraine and Hungary. Now, this binational benefit is an annual event with proceeds going to more restoration.
“It does not make money immediately, but it brings in a spiritual sense. It is a commercially unprofitable project,” Bartosh said. “We gather donations from people and restore the castle and land around it. St. Miklos castle is a (historically) listed building leased by the NGO made up of artists and writers, who are donating for this castle.”
Another option is to rent -- perhaps the picturesque palace of a sugar merchant, available in Vyshcheolchadaiv, Vinnytsya region.
Six rooms of his house were designed in very different styles -- Neo-baroque, Moorish and Ukrainian. The interiors are stunningly well-preserved. Experts estimate that $100,000 would be needed to turn this place into a beautiful hotel.
Insiders say there are other properties with low prices and high potentials.
“We believe that cultural heritage is our future. Because now the whole world is switching to the economy of entertainment, economy of experience and impressions,” Oleksiy Tolkachov, head of Omriyana Kraina (Dream Country), an NGO devoted to culture and humanism, said in an interview.
“And cultural heritage can give a fantastic experience and impressions,” he added. “Therefore, cultural heritage can and should make money.”
One of Tolkachov’s projects is to find a tenant to lease the opulent Sharivka Palace complex in Kharkiv region.
Tourism in Ukraine accounts for 1% of gross domestic product, significantly lower than in other countries. Domestic tourism revenue climbed by 10 % last year, and foreign tourism rose 7 %.
In March, the government approved a strategy of tourism and resort development up to 2026, with the aim of drawing up to 2.5 times the current number of foreign visitors. Goals include a fivefold increase in domestic tourists and an increase in revenue to the equivalent of $3 billion.
Some potential investors are scared away by the war and legislation that fails to provide full protection for property rights. But officials recognize that investment in cultural heritage creates jobs, improves infrastructure and boosts commerce.
“There is a problem with concession agreements, issues with the public-private partnership, and a big problem with the law on the protection of cultural heritage,” said Tolkachov, head of the Dream Country NGO. “It does not give much protection but rather creates countless obstacles that discourage people.”
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or EBRD, is advising the Ministry of Economy on draft laws for tourism concessions.
Some say an easier path is to follow successful examples of investment in privately owned historical buildings.
These include the Premier Palace hotel in central Kyiv, the Bristol Hotel in Odesa, and sevral listed buildings in Lviv converted into hotels. Lviv’s Rudolfo hotel was opened in a 17th century building. The Citadel is in an old Austrian military tower.
One of Ukraine’s most popular restaurant chains, !Fest, uses historical buildings as an attention-grabber.
One of its restaurants in Lviv is situated under the opera house and is decorated in the style of a ship's hold. Another restaurant, Kryivka, is in the cellar of a building in Market Square and attracts nearly one million visitors per year, using images of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which fought both Nazi and Soviet troops during and after World War Two.
Olha Bohomolets, a doctor and political figure, turned an abandoned mill in Radomysl, Zhytomyr region, into a lively castle-museum, with a park, islands and waterfalls. The idea emerged from a search for icons she and her family had been collecting for 25 years.
“I realized that the museum would not be able to support itself,” Bohomolets said. “Preservation of the art collection, security, temperature control – it all needs significant resources and because I did not have them we decided to create additional options that would allow us to make money to maintain the museum. These include a 10-room hotel, restaurant, concert hall, ceremonial hall and paper mill.”
Only 200 sq. m of the 2,500 sq. m. area of Radomysl castle are used to generate profit. The rest belongs to a museum of 5,000 icons, the largest icon museum in Eastern Europe.
The castle, part of the Council of Europe’s Via Regia tourism scheme, also hosts an open-air Chopin festival and the “Aristocratic Ukraine” festival with fashion shows.
In Odesa region, businessman Valeriy Kondratyuk acquired Kurysiv palace in the village of Petrivka, Kominternivsky district, for just under $40 000 -- a knock-down price as he was the sole bidder in the auction. He plans to set up a philatelic museum and hotel at a price tag of $3 million.
Another success story lies in Khyriv, 30 km from the Polish border. Here a group of buildings erected in the late 19th century served first as a Jesuit school and later as a Soviet barracks.
In August 2013, the site was sold at auction for $275 000 to a private investor, “Khyriv-rent-inwest.” After six months of restoration, the investors opened the Layar Palace hotel with a spa and swimming pool, sauna and restaurant.
Company’s CEO Andriy Vovk said the plan also is to establish an “Eastern European College for territorial and local government” to train civil servants and the complex has already staged an international Forum on reform of local government. In addition, there will be an entertainment complex and resort and clinic.
“The complex will provide local people, foreign guests, and travelers with modern diagnostic methods that allow detecting diseases and tumors at early stages,” he said.
The Layar palace recently won a $500,000 tender to provide psychological rehabilitation facilities for more than 2,000 Ukrainian servicemen returning from the conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
Longer-range plans call for a children's camp and amusement park, "Carpathian Disneyland" as well as a sports complex and shooting range.
for comments and story tips, please contact UBJ Weekend Writer Hanna Verzhbytska at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted May 13, 2017