Finding 'American Dream' in Kyiv
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.
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)