US filmmaker chooses home in Kyiv Oblast
Ukraine has become a second home for award-winning U.S independent filmmaker Chad Gracia, director of the “Russian Woodpecker.” The movie, a documentary about a Ukrainian victim of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
After working in Ukraine, the director decided to buy a land plot and build a house in Kyiv Oblast. The deal is still pending, but but he explained to the Kyiv Post why he chose a rural setting.
Gracia said there are many reasons to buy a land plot in Kyiv Oblast: fresh air, peace and quiet, proximity to the city and the wonderful beauty of the countryside.
“My first step will be to build a cozy cottage, and then I’ll invite friends from abroad during the summer to enjoy the outdoors, campfires, and fresh milk and vegetables from the local babushkas,” Gracia said.
But the main reason was affordability. The filmmaker wouldn’t name an exact price, but joked that it was so low he was afraid an avalanche of Americans might come to spoil the quiet of the Ukrainian countryside.
“But for the price of a one-bedroom apartment in New York City or Boston, two cities I'm familiar with, you can live like (Anton Chekhov’s) Madame Ranevskaya and plant your own little Cherry Orchard,” Gracia said, referring to the main character in the famous Russian playwright’s last work.
According to realt.ua land-selling website, the price of land in Kyiv Oblast starts at $1,000 to $2,500 for 100 square meters (0.024 acres). The average price ranges from $12,000 to $50,000.
Gracia has lived in New York City for 25 years, where a good plot of land within an hour of the city is only affordable for the very rich. According to Zillow.com, the price of a house in New York’s Staten Island or Brooklyn starts from $590,000.
“So, as a non-millionaire documentary filmmaker making movies in Ukraine, it seemed like a great way to fulfill a dream I've had since first reading (Lev) Tolstoy as a teenager — to have a summer getaway from which to go hiking, mushroom hunting, and berry picking,” Gracia said.
“I also happen to think it's a great investment — but only time will tell if that is correct,” he added.
How to buy
Gracia said that all a foreign citizen needs to do to buy a land plot for residential construction is to obtain a Ukrainian "tax code," a notary and employ the services either of a good local friend or a lawyer to help resolve any issues that might come up during negotiations.
Of course, buyers will need a real estate agent as well if you don't know people who want to sell to you directly.
“Also, in my understanding and experience, banks don't provide mortgages here (at least not at affordable rates), so you generally need to pay the full price in cash,” Gracia said.
Halyna Teryayeva, the owner of Terezy (Sales) real estate agency in Kyiv, told the Kyiv Post that due to the economic crisis in Ukraine, a land plot in Kyiv Oblast could be a very profitable purchase for a foreigner. And the only documents a person need to become a landowner in Ukraine, apart from a passport, is a Ukrainian tax code, which can be easily obtained from State Fiscal Service of Ukraine.
“The price is really affordable. The client purchases the land plot, but for that price, he can even get an old nice house that can be renovated. Sometimes there is even gas and electricity,” Teryayeva said.
“But you have to have a minimum budget of $30,000, because nobody would sell you a land plot smaller than 2,500 square meters,” she added.
Nice place to live and create
Gracia said that since his first visit to Ukraine in 2006, the quality of life in Ukraine has improved dramatically. The younger generation is busy creating festivals and cafes, making music and writing poetry, shooting films, and generally making Kyiv an undiscovered gem of culture and thought on the edge of Europe, he said.
“I live here part time, not only because of my profession as a filmmaker focusing on the post-Soviet world, but also because I love the architecture of the city, the pace of life, the parks, and the friendliness and optimism of the people,” the director said.
“Here I can make a documentary for a quarter of the price it costs in New York, and there is no shortage of talented people in the cinema industry. That allows me to take on riskier or less ‘ marketable’ projects, because the cost is lower,” Gracia said.
Gracia said he realized that life for the average Ukrainian is still very difficult and that the war is still smoldering in the east, but for those lucky enough to live in Kyiv with a good paying job, he couldn’t imagine a better place to start a new project, or find people who share your passion — whatever it might be.
“Finally, as long as Donald Trump is in office, I prefer to watch the tragedy of American politics from a comfortable distance — and where better to do that than a shady bench in Mariyinskiy Park?” he said.
Kyiv Post staff writer Nataliya Trach contributed reporting to this story.
A woman pours fresh cow milk into a cup as she sits in the yard of her house in the village of Vekhovyna in Ivano Frankivsk Oblast. The quiet and picturesque countryside around Ukrainian villages inspired U.S. filmmaker Chad Gracia to buy a land plot...
American independent filmmaker Chad Gracia at work tutoring filmmaking in America House in Kyiv on April 18. (Courtesy of 86festival/ Facebook)