Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was well-known for his extravagances. His gauche 343-acre palace in Mezhyhirya—now owned by the state—boasts a full-size replica Spanish galleon, a shooting range with a decorative “running boar” sculpture (which cost a reported $93,000 to commission) and a golf course. Yet only when Yanukovych was forced to flee the country in February under the cloud of corruption charges was the public made aware of his beloved dogs.

The Mezhyhirya property contains a large compound built to house and breed rare dogs. The supersized facility consists of breeding and surgery rooms, a gym and a beauty salon, as well as living quarters for the animals’ 24/7 staff. Though many of the dog trainers lost their jobs when the current government seized most of Yanukovych’s assets, photographer Jacob Balzani Loov was awarded unprecedented access to the kennel, where trainers Nikolai Garus, 34, and Petrov Verena, 43, still reside and take care of the animals.

“These dogs are our life,” Garus says of the 17 dogs and one cat that live on the estate. “They grew up with us, and we are the only ones who know how to take care of them.”

According to the trainers, the former president preferred to breed massive pooches. The smallest is an English mastiff named Antei. (To give you some context on Antei’s “smallness,” an average male of his breed can weigh between 150 and 242 pounds.) The other 16 are gigantic shepherds from the Caucasus or Central Asia, like Ken, a red-coated Tibetan mastiff that looks like a giant bear. He is a spectacular example of one of the rarest and most expensive breeds in the world. (In 2011, a similar dog was sold for more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million.)

Yanukovych, who used to keep a small Chihuahua in his palatial mansion, visited the dogs only once or twice a week. “He was always very busy, but the dogs knew when he was coming because they felt us preparing for the occasion,” says Verena, proudly showing a room full of trophies from international canine competitions attended by both dogs and trainers.

Without their former benefactor, the canines and human handlers both face an uncertain future. Various proposals have been put forth—one, to convert the property into a children’s rehabilitation center—but no decisions have been made. Clearly, the government has other issues to handle first.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was well-known for his extravagances. His gauche 343-acre palace in Mezhyhirya—now owned by the state—boasts a full-size replica Spanish galleon, a shooting range with a decorative “running boar” sculpture (which cost a reported $93,000 to commission) and a golf course. Yet only when Yanukovych was forced to flee the country in February under the cloud of corruption charges was the public made aware of his beloved dogs.

The Mezhyhirya property contains a large compound built to house and breed rare dogs. The supersized facility consists of breeding and surgery rooms, a gym and a beauty salon, as well as living quarters for the animals’ 24/7 staff. Though many of the dog trainers lost their jobs when the current government seized most of Yanukovych’s assets, photographer Jacob Balzani Loov was awarded unprecedented access to the kennel, where trainers Nikolai Garus, 34, and Petrov Verena, 43, still reside and take care of the animals.

“These dogs are our life,” Garus says of the 17 dogs and one cat that live on the estate. “They grew up with us, and we are the only ones who know how to take care of them.”

According to the trainers, the former president preferred to breed massive pooches. The smallest is an English mastiff named Antei. (To give you some context on Antei’s “smallness,” an average male of his breed can weigh between 150 and 242 pounds.) The other 16 are gigantic shepherds from the Caucasus or Central Asia, like Ken, a red-coated Tibetan mastiff that looks like a giant bear. He is a spectacular example of one of the rarest and most expensive breeds in the world. (In 2011, a similar dog was sold for more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million.)

Yanukovych, who used to keep a small Chihuahua in his palatial mansion, visited the dogs only once or twice a week. “He was always very busy, but the dogs knew when he was coming because they felt us preparing for the occasion,” says Verena, proudly showing a room full of trophies from international canine competitions attended by both dogs and trainers.

Without their former benefactor, the canines and human handlers both face an uncertain future. Various proposals have been put forth—one, to convert the property into a children’s rehabilitation center—but no decisions have been made. Clearly, the government has other issues to handle first.

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