Molchanova: I found Myself with Two Children in Apartment Occupied by Criminals

30.07.2019

In an interview with GORDON, the founder of the Stolitsa Group, Vlada Molchanova, spoke about how work and personal interests are combined in the housing construction market in Kyiv, about the relationship between the business and government, as well as about her participation in the political life of the capital.

Vlada Molchanova is a biophysicist by profession, an architect by vocation, and in real life she is a mother of five children and a businesswoman. Fifteen years ago, she founded and led the Stolitsa Group, which is today one of the largest construction companies. The holding has implemented a number of projects in housing construction (for example, the Lipinka, Otdykh, Quartet complexes), builds shopping and entertainment complexes and develops a supermarket chain.

In an interview with GORDON on the eve of March 8, Molchanova told whether it is easy for a woman in Ukraine to do business that thinks about the modern development of Kyiv. What future she sees for the city, why she decided to participate in the political life of the capital, and what are her secrets of success and happiness.

- You came into business in the early 2000s, when it was not easy for everyone. Where did your story began?

“Strange as it may seem, I am in business not of my own free will but out of desperation. Until that moment, our family was provided by a husband who was engaged in his own business and participated in the project together with a German company. Things seemed to be going well. We even moved to a new apartment in the center of Kyiv.

But then problems arose: some decided to take away the successful business, and the husband had to hide, otherwise he would have simply been killed. I found myself with two children in an apartment occupied by bandits. We were locked in one of the rooms and we escaped through the window. I had to jump from the second floor. Barefoot, with my sons, I came to my parents, to my old apartment in Academmistechko. Without a husband, with no home, no money, but still had to live somehow.

It was very inconvenient to ask for help from dad. I remember a terrible moment when, on my youngest son's birthday, I couldn't even buy him a small car in a department store. Standing at the shop window, I promised myself that this would never happen again.

With my profession, no one needed me. My cousin Oleksiy advised me to start by small steps - borrow some money and open a small cafe. We grew up in this area, knew everyone around, and the cafe was not empty. Things have gotten better.”

- How did you end up into the construction industry?

“When I decided to draw up documents for my cafe, I realized that I really know how to do a lot: to systematize documentation, to make sure that the business meets all the requirements. Then the construction services market was just on its eve. At the time, I met Lev Karapetyan, the founder of the KLO network. He offered to prepare design estimates for his gas stations and buildings. During my work for his company, I understood very well what the permitting system in construction is, design estimates and the construction process itself, so I decided: why not try to build something myself?

Then I met Volodymyr Kosterin, a wealthy and successful businessman. We agreed to establish a joint construction company and became partners. This is how the Stolitsa Group appeared. Our first buildings on Verkhovynna Street even today look very dignified, because they are solidly built. That was my entry into the business.

In 2009, Kosterin sold his stake in the company to the Lithuanian business group BT Invest, and Lithuanian businessman Raimondas Tumenas became my partner. We have been successfully developing our business together for many years. We have complete mutual understanding and constructive work. And Stolitsa Group has turned into a large international holding - it has built many facilities, including residential complexes, shopping and shopping and entertainment complexes.

- The construction business is a very complex area. How do you keep afloat?

“I find a common language with almost all participants in the construction market, I have partnerships with many. In addition, I believe that construction is a creative work and one of the most advanced sectors of the economy. It is estimated that 1 hryvnia in construction gives 6 hryvnia in other industries. This is a kind of engine in the country's economy.

Builders are treated much better abroad than here, monuments are erected after them. I recently visited the United States at the Hoover Dam. This is a unique hydraulic structure on the Colorado River, built in the 1930s. You should see this place - bare rocks, gorges, temperature under +50 °C. It is difficult to imagine in what conditions people built this dam. Tens of thousands of people participated in the construction, more than a hundred died. A monument was erected in their memory.

It's pity that in Ukraine there is no such attitude towards people who create important infrastructure facilities. I understand that we have a poor state. Everything that we have today, we inherited from the USSR, where they made every effort to destroy any culture as such, including production.

– How do you generally assess the situation in the housing construction market?

“Ukraine now has relatively cheap housing. But prices will inevitably begin to rise, because labor becomes more expensive. The economic situation and political apathy in recent years have provoked a new wave of emigration: a huge number of people are coming. On the one hand, this is not bad - people go, see how they live in Europe, learn something. Some of them with new knowledge and skills may come back. In addition, we are beginning to experience a serious shortage of workers. And another big question is how further these processes will affect the economy.

Of course, you need to raise wages. Ukraine in terms of wages ranks last in Europe. Even Moldova bypassed us. And how do you keep people? But for this you need to have a resource - where to get money from.

Western investments are not included in Ukraine, because there is no trust in the state. Raider attacks, instability, fears of a change of government and a redistribution of the market. As a result, there are no people willing to make long-term investments with a payback of 10–12 years. We have a planning horizon of three to five years. But I am sure that when the country really, and not just according to declarations, takes the European vector, when the West realizes that the country is led by worthy statesmen, in positions not for the sake of their business and personal enrichment, then everything will change.

– To be honest, it's a shame that everything is being built in the city – residential complexes, business centers, malls with shops, but there is not a single object in the cultural sphere, such as, for example, the Georges Pompidou Center for Contemporary Art in Paris. There are no great global projects that can become a source of national pride.

“I share this outrage. But construction companies themselves cannot undertake global cultural projects. First of all, because there is no cheap money in the country. We raise funds in the market by selling apartments to the end consumer. And thanks to this, we are building large districts. To build a significant cultural facility, investments must be up to a billion dollars. Yes, this is not the task of construction companies.

The state and authorities should take care of the creation of cultural infrastructure. I don't want to talk about the site plan - all mayors promise it. But the outdated site plan, approved back in 2002, is still in effect. The strategy of the city is a formal document that no one reads, no one is guided by it. And there should be a clear vision of each object - a park, a square, a reservoir, an interchange, a residential building.

All developers and my company are hostages of the situation. It is necessary to build faster and more in order to keep the price affordable for the consumer. But business is business, to earn money, and the city government is power to find a balance and harmony between the comfortable life of Kyivans and business.

– But when you build, you must think that your object is not a rooming house, that people need a place to live…

“I don't like this state of affairs either. Let's take, for example, the Darnitsky district of the capital - in fact, a city of half a million, and zero cultural infrastructure: no decent squares, no parks, no recreation areas. As a builder, there's nothing I can do. When we are designing a district, we build parks, schools, and kindergartens. But no one has the obligation to build it all.

I am convinced that you need to take money from the developer, and the city should create the infrastructure. After all, we pay special deductions to the budget. By the way, now they are trying to reduce the share of construction companies in the infrastructure of the city. Although I am a developer, and it is against my business interests, I do not agree with this. As a resident of Kyiv, I believe that payments should be increased, but at the same time, the city should be obliged to use the funds for their intended purpose.

What's happening? For example, we are building a large complex "Galaktyka". The project includes a kindergarten. I have no obligation to build it. My duty is to put the kindergarten into the project and allocate money for infrastructure to the city budget (which was done).

How the money is distributed - I cannot control. Unfortunately, the authorities can use them for any infrastructure project in the city. And this is a big problem. There should be a targeted use of funds for a specific infrastructure of a particular district.

I emphasize this once again: deductions for infrastructure need to be increased, and the city budget should be formed differently. But these are the rules of the game that no one can change yet.

- Or maybe doesn't want to?

"Both. The desire itself is not enough. We need an opportunity, and for this we need a constructive government that will work on solving urban problems. Then maybe in five years we will see changes in the infrastructure. We just need to get down to business, otherwise not only bridges will start to fall in our country.

There is money in the city treasury. This year, Kyiv overfulfilled the budget. It is necessary to distribute the collected resource rationally. Systematically approach the process: build a city development strategy and strictly adhere to it, outline problems, set priorities (first of all, those that need updating, and what can wait), calculate how much money you need, think about where you can get it, and prescribe the rules of work, conduct regular monitoring and analysis. That is, to build work as in any commercial company. The strategy should be presented on the website, and its implementation should be displayed online. The people of Kyiv should see where the city is moving and how they implement the planned projects.

- The authorities assure that Kyiv already has a transparent budget, everyone can see where the money is going.

“The budget is a rather complicated story. The layman will be able to see something, but not everything. Much is really hidden from view. The people of Kyiv are interested in how the city will develop, what parks will appear, what will happen to the quality of tap water, what squares will be built, where parking lots will be built, how many schools and cultural centers will be built ... Even in the most open budget, you won't see it.

In general, I believe that direct democracy is the optimal form of government. The fate should be determined by the people living here, who are not indifferent to the fate of Kyiv. Therefore, any strategic issues should be decided by the majority of Kyivans during referendums, as it works, for example, in Switzerland.”

– What, in your opinion, hinders the modernization and development of the infrastructure and housing sector in Kyiv?

“It's a mystery to me. After all, we have problems not only at the level of a particular high-rise building, district or even city, but global problems at the level of state policy. The people who come to power do not need this country. And I understand it like no one else. I work for a large company and constantly encounter the authorities, I know almost everyone in the parliament, government, city council, and other government agencies. I know who most of these people are, what they aspire to. Watching their "state" activities and the soul hurts.

As a woman, I have always treated Yulia Tymoshenko well. I met her personally when she got out of prison. Once, we discussed the situation in Kyiv. I critically commented on what was happening. She replied: "If you criticize, you know how to change, take it and do it." Now I help her organize the work in Kyiv.

As a completely new person in politics, I try to be constructive, I do not choose a radical position, I help with advice or recommendations. Determined to move forward. I want to meet with the mayors of Warsaw and Berlin, where many interesting projects are being implemented now and where there is a progressive city development strategy. I think they will understand me, support me and share information and experience.

– Does your family support your political ambitions?

“There are no such ambitions. A place in parliament or in the executive branch does not interest me at all. There is only a desire to change something in my home city. I understand that if I don't take on this work myself, someone else won't do what Kyiv really needs.

I am a successful person. A lot has been achieved in life. Older children are completely independent, go their own way. My whole family lives in Kyiv. And I want Kyiv to become a modern, comfortable and cultural city, where you want to come, where it is comfortable to live, and it is interesting to work. I know I can make it. I see the goal, I see no obstacles, as the hero of one old film said.

- Are you going to run for mayor?

"For me, this is not an end in itself. Now I am working on the project "Center for the Protection of Kyivans", created with my support and on the initiative of Yulia Tymoshenko. I like this project because, on the one hand, it helps the people of Kyiv to solve problems, and on the other hand, it makes modern information technologies more understandable and closer. We teach how to pay utility bills using modern services, we provide legal support. We teach people to participate in the governing of the city. But the main thing is that we study Kyiv problems, analyze international experience and form the main priorities for the development of the city. Soon, we will introduce the people of Kyiv for discussion of a new and modern strategy for the development of Kyiv."

- Do you feel happy?

"Certainly."

- And what is the secret of your happiness?

"Of course, it's family, my children. I have five. The eldest son is 24 years old, the youngest is 22. I also have three daughters - 14 years old and 11-year-old twins. The sons are completely independent. Each received one education in Ukraine, the second - abroad, and both returned to live here. Everyone has chosen their own path in life. Eldest is a nutritionist. As a volunteer, he works with children with autism, develops dietary programs at the same time, and works on the creation of a health and nutrition center.

The younger one founded an IT company developing a promising application that will become an alternative to online communication in social networks and will help people communicate more often in the real world, find new friends and like-minded people. I'm sure this product has great potential.

A significant component of my happiness is my parents. They are amazing people, true patriots of Ukraine. They brought up this feeling of pride for their country and boundless love for it in me and my children. We only speak Ukrainian in our house. My father Boris Romanyuk is a professor, a mathematical physicist, works at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Mother Lilia is a design engineer. I also have a younger brother.

My parents have always inspired and supported me. Since childhood, I have been passionately fond of horses and admired riding. My parents were very worried about me, but they didn't mind when I went horseback riding. And I achieved the result - I became a master of sports. In 1986, she even won the championship of Ukraine. When it was time to choose a profession, I decided to study architecture, because I always drew well. True, my father convinced me to study science. And I went to the Faculty of Biology of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. I am a biophysicist by profession. However, as you can see, life still connected me with architecture."

- Is your younger brother also a scientist?

"Andrey followed his father's path, graduated from the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Taras Shevchenko University. Then he studied in Germany and then moved to Switzerland and stayed there. He is our pride. The professor, who worked at the University of Basel, is now the head of the department for the scientific development of new technologies in the large company Glas Trösch, which has glass factories around the world, in particular in our country.

The brother dreams of returning to Ukraine. He often comes because, together with his colleague from Zurich, he conducts charitable lectures for young people at our universities, tells how modern science develops in the West.

Together with Silicon Valley professor Anton Bilyaev, they developed a program for reforming science. I handed it over to the Timoshenko team, I hope that it will fall into their strategy of a new course for the country's development."

- You have a friendly family.

"The foundations of such a system were laid by my grandmother, my father's mother, Lidia Illarionivna. She is from a family dispossessed during the USSR. In the Khmelnitsky region, my ancestors had a large plot of land that they cultivated. The Soviet government took everything from them. And the commissars threw the grandmother with her parents, brother and six-year-old sister into the street, and then exiled. Later, when the grandmother managed to survive, she got married and gave birth to five children. Her husband, a war invalid, died in 1954. Grandma had to raise them on her own. She brought up the spirit of unity in everyone, she said: for you, there is no one dearer than your parents and your brothers and sisters.

I spent every summer in the countryside, because my father, a doctor of physical and mathematical sciences, went to the North to work. All my cousins and sisters came to the village - 7-10 people. We fooled around all summer, and my grandmother and her half-sister served our crowd, and also managed to cultivate a garden, take care of birds and cows. Grandmother loved us very much, pitied and spoiled us. I don't allow my kids to do that."

- What are your principles of education?

"Love cannot be corrupted. I admit, I lack rigor. But this shortcoming is compensated by my mother, who helps me cope with my daughters and monitors the regimen. Daughters love their grandmother very much, but they are afraid. When she comes (we live next door), the kids say: "Democracy is over, Berkut (a former special forces police unit in Ukraine) has come." This word entered into family usage after the Revolution of Dignity."

- Who is in charge of the house?

"I do not consider myself the main one, but it so happens that I am the most proactive, and therefore I have to sort everything out (laughs)."

- How do you find time to communicate with children with such a serious workload?

"No matter where I have to go, I try to take my children with me. Even when I'm flying for business negotiations. Any time that I can be with a child, I try to use it."

- Has the Revolution of Dignity affected your family greatly?

"For me, the events of the Euromaidan are not something abstract. At that time, I lived not far from St. Michael's Zolotoverkhy Cathedral. I am a member. When the revolution began, I sent the younger children with their mother abroad. And she actively participated in everything. Events unfolded right under my house. I invited correspondents to my home to film events from the windows. I had a kitchen for protesters. On the hottest days, my father took the wounded from the Maidan in his car, and a part of the hospital of the Mikhailovsky Monastery was located in my apartment, an operating room was set up in one of the rooms, and doctors also lived with me.

At the bottom of the Kostelna stood a unit of the National Guard. I approached them and looked. It was just outrageous: young guys were thrown on a mission, and they were treated like stray dogs. The age of my sons. I felt sorry for them. My friend who lives next door and I fed them. They were so afraid to take food, drink, cigarettes. We had to explain that we did not conceive anything bad."

- Now many people regret that they supported the Euromaidan. And you?

"There's a saying that the revolution is made by the romantics, and the scoundrels take advantage of its achievements. So it happened with us. Who and how provoked the attempt to disperse and shoot the protesters is not completely known. I am very critical of many representatives of the new government. They cynically used the situation and did not realize the historical chance that fell to them. But it is on their conscience. Personally, I don't regret anything."

- Isn't it a shame that little has changed in these four years?

"The worst thing is that the government, to which Maidan handed over power, sowed the seed of despondency in the hearts of people. This is the worst thing that has ever happened. Frustrated, people lose their activity. This, in principle, plays into the hands of politicians: people will no longer come out, you can do whatever you want. But this is a terrible illusion. Internal patriotism and unity is growing. And the nation will inevitably come to the fact that it will choose a worthy power for itself."

Source: "Gordon"

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