Until March 2015, the 61-year-old Terestchenko was a French citizen, born and raised in Paris. That month he acquired a Ukrainian passport straight from the hands of President Petro Poroshenko. Why the hullabaloo? Because Terestchenko is a descendant of the Tereshchenko family, one of Ukraine’s grandest, having produced a number of prominent entrepreneurs, philanthropists, art collectors, and diplomats in the 18th–20th centuries. The family fled to France during the bloody years of the Bolshevik Revolution. Their expropriated art collection then formed the core of what eventually became the Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art.
Michel—described by one source as an “art patron, entrepreneur and descendant of the legendary dynasty” and by another as a “cordial bon vivant clad in a brown bomber jacket”—returned to Ukraine about a decade ago. Apparently, “a sudden desire to see his ancestral home nearly a decade ago moved Tereshchenko to resettle from Paris and turn part of the old family mansion into the office of a profitable flax and hemp production plant.”
Terestchenko’s decision to get involved in politics was just as unexpected. He speaks Russian slowly, slightly ungrammatically, and with a charming French accent:
I love Ukraine very much. It’s the homeland of my ancestors. It’s now my homeland. I was on the Maidan. I was no hero, just a simple man. I was still French then…. I was there all the time. I saw how they brought down the Lenin monument on December 8 …. I saw fourteen corpses. I will never forget this. Until then, I believed it was possible not to take part in politics. But then I saw what had happened…. Things are difficult at the state level. There are reforms, but they’re proceeding very slowly… Many people have died, over 7,000. Every family has experienced a trauma. And in Hlukhiv there are no reforms… The city is dying…. There are no investments, no future…. When the residents of Hlukhiv suggested I run for mayor, I said to myself: Michel, you can’t say no.