Ukraine's ousted ex-President Viktor Yanukovych is no stranger to memes and viral videos featuring his person. But after the Euromaidan protests led him to escape Ukraine in February 2014, he has been off the radar, living in an undisclosed location somewhere in Russia. On June 22, he suddenly reemerged on TV and computer screens, having granted an exclusive interview to BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse.
Seated in a lavishly decorated room at a restaurant somewhere in Moscow, the two talked about a number of subjects, including the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine and the sniper fire on protesters in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, but an entirely different moment from the interview has spawned multiple reactions on social media: ostriches.
— Gabriel Gatehouse (@ggatehouse) June 22, 2015
Gatehouse broached the topic of ostriches when discussing the excesses of Mezhyhirya, Yanukovych’s 350-acre estate on the outskirts of Kyiv, which has since become a “Museum of Corruption” and spawned the “YanukovychLeaks” project investigating the financial dealings of the Yanukovych family. One of the more absurd elements of this estate was a private zoo, which held several ostriches, as well as other exotic animals. After Gatehouse asked about the private zoo, Yanukovych defended himself, saying that he had nothing to do with the animals and had simply “supported the ostriches.”
Би-би-си: А зоопарк?
Би-би-си: Зоопарк, который там находится, страусы и так далее…
В.Я.: Ну а что плохого в том, что я поддерживал людей…
Би-би-си: Эти страусы не принадлежали вам?
В.Я.: Что плохого, что поддерживал? Скажите мне?
Би-би-си: Что вы поддерживали?
В.Я.: Что я поддерживал этих страусов. Что плохого в этом?
Би-би-си: Поддерживали страусов…
В.Я.: Ну они жили там. Они просто жили там.
Би-би-си: На территории вашей резиденции?
В.Я.: А мне что, закрыть глаза и ходить – ничего не видеть?
BBC: The zoo?
Viktor Yanukovych: What?
BBC: The zoo, with the ostriches, etc.?
VY: What's wrong with supporting people?
BBC: So the ostriches didn't belong to you?
VY: What’s wrong with supporting?
BBC: What did you support?
VY: That I supported the ostriches, what’s wrong with that?
BBC: You supported the ostriches?
VY: Yes, they just lived there.
BBC: They just happened to be living there on the grounds of your residence?
VY: Yes, what am I supposed to do, go around with my eyes closed?
[Transcript and translation provided by BBC]
“The ostriches” eclipsed most of the other answers in the interview, and Russian and Ukrainian social media users seemed just as amused by Yanukovych’s answer as Gatehouse himself, turning the phrase into an instant meme that erupted on Twitter and elsewhere.
Витя, на кого ты нас оставил? pic.twitter.com/GWVYoL760T
— Oleg Novikov (@olegnovikovkh) June 22, 2015
Vitya, who’d you leave us for?
Popular parody account of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, @Fake_MIDRF, speculated about ways the Russian government could support Yanukovych and his ostriches.
Думаем открыть международный благотворительный фонд поддержки страусов им. В.Ф. Януковича.
— Мuд Роисси (@Fake_MIDRF) June 23, 2015
We are thinking of launching a Yanukovych International Charitable Foundation for Ostrich Support.
However, a different Twitter user had an issue with this photo of Yanukovych riding an ostrich:
— Все Плохо (@sranysovok) June 23, 2015
@sranysovok это неправильная картинка. Он же поддерживает страусов, а не они его
— Saida (@SNurpeis) June 23, 2015
This picture is incorrect. He supports the ostriches, not the other way around.
The parody account for Dmitry Kiselyov's TV show “Vesti Dnya” also delivered.
Каждый раз когда ты называешь Януковича нелегитимным, в мире умирает один страус.
— Киселев: вести дня (@dailykiselev) June 22, 2015
Somewhere, an ostrich dies every time you call Yanukovych “illegitimate.”
Many users saw parallels between Yanukovych's actions during Euromaidan protests and the predicament of the current Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan in the context of the ongoing mass protests in Yerevan and other Armenian cities.
Президенту Армении Сержу Саргсяну всю ночь снились полчища страусов
— Веселые ребята (@VRebyata) June 23, 2015
All night long, Armenian president Serzh Sergsyan dreamed of a hoard of ostriches.
Саргсян, можешь забрать своих армянских страусов и свалить в Ростов через Иран #ElectricYerevan
— €ВРОССИЯ, НЕ 欧ВРАЗИЯ (@azazet) June 23, 2015
Sargsyan, you can take your Armenian ostriches and get away to Rostov through Iran #ElectricYerevan
While much of the rest of Yanukovych’s interview to BBC Newsnight was informative, especially regarding his statement on accepting some responsibility for the Maidan demonstrators who died from sniper fire, the ostriches overshadowed all other interesting tidbits and captured the public imagination. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, those ostriches are doing just fine, despite the absence of their biggest supporter.