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Ukraine's Gaffe-Prone President

"So nice to meet you, esteemed madam general-secretary."

"So nice to meet you, esteemed madam general-secretary."

Sometimes you can’t help but feel sorry for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. After all, it just doesn’t seem right that someone can be plagued by so much misadventure. Or perhaps it is simply bad luck. Or, perish the thought, a manifestation of a truly limited intellectual capacity.

From the moment he spelled professor with two "f's" on his first presidential candidate declaration, errors of a spelling, grammatical, literary, and geographical nature have plagued the poor man.

He has in the past confused the renowned Russian poet Anna Akhmatova with Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov; suggested that a future Winter Olympic Games be held in the Ukrainian region of Bukovyna, rather than the Carpathian skiing resort of Bukovel; inadvertently insulted the residents of Lviv by telling them they were the "genocide of the nation" when he meant "gene pool”; and insisted that Anton Chekhov was a Ukrainian poet.

These gaffes continue into his presidency.

In the last two days, Yanukovych has hosted the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He and his handlers managed to make mistakes during both meetings.

Rather than stand with respect during the playing of the Sri Lankan anthem, Yanukovych led Rajapaksa to inspect the military honor guard while the anthem was being played.

At the business forum co-chaired by both presidents, the backdrop of the forum contained not one, not two, but three spelling mistakes. One in Ukrainian, one in English, and one in the Ukrainian president’s name, which for some mysterious reason was spelled with an "i" -- Yanukovich -- rather than the customary "y." The Ukrainian word equivalent of the backdrop sign for “His Excellency” contained a Russian letter, while the word "co-chaired" in English was missing a crucial "e."

The latest victim of Yanukovych’s confusion was Hillary Clinton. Her much-awaited Central European and Caucasus tour began in Kyiv on Friday, where the Ukrainian president referred to her as “general-secretary." This he did twice.

“I am grateful, esteemed madam general-secretary, to you and to President Obama for your warm words,” and, “Today’s meeting with the general-secretary confirmed the readiness of both sides to deepen our relations..."

Only when he returned to prepared notes did he call her by her correct title, never once realizing his previous mistake.

-- Irena Chalupa

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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