Find­ing 'Amer­i­can Dream' in Kyiv

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Aisha Down down@kyiv­post.com

Just 12 kilo­me­ters west of Kyiv, in front of a gated de­vel­op­ment of white stucco houses set into scrubby pine for­est, Li­ud­myla Vlashchenko says her fam­ily moved here hop­ing for se­cu­rity and Amer­i­can-style com­fort.

In his down­town Kyiv of­fice, Anton Freed­land, the cre­ative direc­tor of Saga De­vel­op­ment, uses the same Amer­i­can al­lure to sell chic apart­ments, by nam­ing the com­pany’s build­ings New York, Chicago and San Fran­cisco.

Whether big-city apart­ments or quiet suburbs with roomy, de­tached houses, de­vel­op­ments branded with Amer­i­can and Euro­pean names sell for good money in Kyiv.

But while am­bi­tious mar­keters of­fer stylish dwellings and at­trac­tive brand­ing, those in pur­suit of Kyiv’s “Amer­i­can dream” are often in search of some­thing more elu­sive than a place to live. Bel­gravia Named af­ter a high-class neigh­bor­hood of Lon­don, Bel­gravia is a cot­tage set­tle­ment not far from Dmytrivka, a vil­lage about 12 kilo­me­ters west of Kyiv along the E40 Zhy­to­myr high­way. Gated and bu­colic, it has a small English-style red tele­phone box at its en­trance, a nod to its name­sake.

Vlashchenko has lived here for two years, she says, with her hus­band Olek­sandr and her young son. Sit­ting at a café on one side of the de­vel­op­ment, Vlashchenko says Bel­gravia, for them, con­jures up im­ages of sub­ur­ban Amer­ica.

“We’ve never been to Eng­land. Here it’s like a small town in the United States,” she says. “An open place, no fences. We like this.”

Other places in Kyiv have patchy zon­ing reg­u­la­tions, says Vlashchenko.

“You have a small house, but next door, they can buy the land and build a five-story build­ing. Here, you know you won’t have that prob­lem.”

In Bel­gravia, all houses are built of the same ma­te­rial — white stucco — and neigh­bor­hood rules and a se­cu­rity guard gov­ern who can come in and out.

“We like this place. It’s quite com­fort­able for us. It’s safe,” says Vlashchenko.

The only trou­ble, she says, is the com­mute to Kyiv — with traf­fic, now well over an hour.

This means that, de­spite Bel­gravia’s small­town ap­peal, the Vlashchenkos say they don’t re­ally have time to get to know their neigh­bors.

“We’re work­ing a lot,” says Vlashchenko.

Mid­dle-class life?

The vi­sion of Bel­gravia’s de­signer, Al­bert Zrazhevsky, was Amer­i­can mid­dle-class life, he says. He built the de­vel­op­ment in 2010. It has about 100 houses, 75 of which are oc­cu­pied.

His clien­tele, he says, are “peo­ple who have suc­ceeded and made some money. The mid­dle-class, not oli­garchs.”

A house in Bel­gravia costs roughly the same as one in Kyiv’s other lux­ury sub­urb de­vel­op­ments—$250,000 for 160 square me­ters, says Zrazhevsky’s sis­ter, Iryna Zrazhevskaya, who works in Bel­gravia’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While av­er­age wages in Kyiv were about $350 per month in early 2018, Al­bert

Zrazhevsky in­sists that Bel­gravia's denizens are mid­dle­class. He re­peats it sev­eral times.

“Lawyers, com­pany man­agers, doc­tors — the mid­dle class, like in Amer­ica,” he says.

Tim Louzo­nis, a part­ner at AIM Realty in Kyiv, com­ments that res­i­den­tial real es­tate is the most trusted as­set for Ukraini­ans; fam­i­lies tend to put all their sav­ings into houses.

Still, with its streets lined with high-end ve­hi­cles, Bel­gravia’s tar­get clients seem more ac­cu­rately like a mid­dle class from Europe or Amer­ica. Un­like suburbs there, how­ever, Bel­gravia is pa­trolled by se­cu­rity guards, who es­corted re­porters out when they tried to talk to its res­i­dents.

“It’s against the rules to dis­turb them,” Zrazhevskaya ex­plained.

Saga If suburbs like Bel­gravia try to se­quester them­selves from Kyiv, a new set of Amer­i­can-branded build­ings are try­ing, in­stead, to trans­form the city’s land­scape — and its com­mu­nity.

“Our CEO vis­ited Amer­ica many times,” says Victoria Zyma, mar­ket­ing direc­tor of Saga De­vel­op­ment, the firm be­hind the build­ings.

“He’s very in­spired by the cul­ture, by the space, by the com­fort there. When he came back to Ukraine, he wanted to bring these things from other cities.”

Headed by An­driy Vavych, Saga De­vel­op­ment is build­ing four Amer­i­can-named “con­cept houses” — res­i­den­tial apart­ment build­ings scat­tered around Kyiv’s cen­ter.

Chicago, with a green mar­ble fa­cade, is at the in­ter­sec­tion of Zhylian­ska and Antonovy­cha streets. New York, in brick and ce­ment, is sev­eral blocks far­ther south on Antonovy­cha Street. San Fran­cisco and Philadel­phia, both in the works, are fur­ther from the city’s cen­ter.

Each of these houses has a con­cept be­hind it, says Freed­land. Chicago is “ex­tro­verted and bo­hemian,” — close to down­town and Kyiv Op­eretta Theater.

New York is about a “stylish, smart, so­ci­ety con­cept,” says Zyma. San Fran­cisco, with cre­ative workspaces, a li­brary, and a lot of in-build­ing con­ve­niences, is de­signed “for IT peo­ple.”

Saga’s apart­ments are high-end; Chicago sells for $2,000 per square me­ter, while New York and San Fran­cisco range from $1,200 to $1,800 per square me­ter.

But Freed­land and Zyma say they are fo­cus­ing more on the per­son­al­ity of their tar­get clients than their eco­nomic class.

“We thought about this ques­tion, and we un­der­stood that we don’t mea­sure them by mar­ket­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics like age, sex,” says Zyma.

“We mea­sure them by their style. New York, for ex­am­ple, is for busy peo­ple who work, who are ac­tive, who travel a lot… Peo­ple who have these same val­ues (will live in) New York.”

Mean­while, they say, Chicago will have a catchy piece of dig­i­tal sculp­ture that, they hope, will get the at­ten­tion of the neigh­bor­hood.

“We pre­dict these will be the ar­chi­tec­tural sym­bols of the district, and peo­ple will come and visit and take pic­tures and just en­joy it,” says Zyma. “When you go through this street, it will be like ‘Kyiv, Kyiv, Kyiv — wow! — Kyiv.’”

Work­ers get a lift to build Chicago, (right) a new apart­ment de­vel­op­ment in down­town Kyiv. Chicago is meant to at­tract clients with a bo­hemian, ex­tro­verted out­look, says its de­vel­oper, Saga De­vel­op­ment. It's one of a slew of new de­vel­op­ments that's us­ing Amer­i­can names to sell real es­tate near Kyiv. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Real es­tate branded with Amer­i­can and Euro­pean names sell for good money and are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity amid gloomy Soviet-in­her­ited build­ingsin Kyiv.

Chicago, a new apart­ment de­vel­op­ment in down­town Kyiv, offers Amer­i­canstyle ar­chi­tec­ture. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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