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Analysis: Ukrainian Premier Survives Egg Attack

Workers painting a Yanukovych campaign billboard A series of alarming reports in Ukrainian media on 24 September focused the country's attention squarely on presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych and Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko are widely expected to take the first two slots in the 31 October election and qualify for the runoff three weeks later.

According to press reports, Yanukovych was in the town of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine for a campaign meeting on 24 September when he was injured by unspecified objects described as "weighty" and "hard." His bodyguards took him to the intensive-care unit of a local hospital. Yanukovych's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, pointed an accusing finger at the potential culprits: a crowd of Our Ukraine supporters, primarily young people, she said, were behaving "aggressively" when Yanukovych arrived in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Several hours later, Yanukovych -- sullen but otherwise apparently unscathed -- read a televised statement from the hospital, in which he explicitly accused Yushchenko's supporters of attacking him. "I am sorry for those young men who did this to me," Yanukovych said. "But I have no questions for them. At the same time, I have a question for [their] leaders, for Yushchenko's entourage, who pushed the young men to do this.... Is it your policy? Is it human?"

Who did what to Yanukovych in Ivano-Frankivsk on 24 September remained unclear throughout the day. Immediately after the incident, a spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry said Yanukovych had been hit by nothing deadlier than a raw egg, which she said was thrown by the 17-year-old son of a local university dean. Later, however, the Interior Ministry backed down from this pronouncement and issued a statement saying that the premier had been hit by "several hard objects."

There has been no other official version of the incident, and Interior Ministry investigators were unable to locate any "hard" or "weighty" or "sharp-edged" objects at the scene of the incident, but several Yanukovych associates have offered their own account of what happened.

Lawmaker Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the pro-government parliamentary coalition, said Yanukovych was hit on the temple by an egg and collapsed from "pain shock." Lawmaker Taras Chornovil, a Yanukovych supporter, said he watched from the upper deck of Yanukovych's bus as the prime minister was hit on the temple by a stone. Serhiy Tihipko, head of Yanukovych's election campaign, said the prime minister was hit by a battery from a video camera.

Late in the evening of 24 September, the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5 TV station aired a video of the attack. The tape shows an egg smashing against Yushchenko's chest shortly after he steps out of his bus. After he's hit by the egg, the video shows Yanukovych grimacing, as if from a sudden pang of pain, then collapsing, then being swiftly carried from the scene by his bodyguards. On TV, the sequence of events looked more farcical than dangerous.

Channel 5's egg-attack video spawned a great deal of speculation in Ukraine. Most commentators said Yanukovych's reaction to the attack was exaggerated. Some maintained that he overreacted to get publicity, as a way to divert the public's attention from the much-publicized alleged poisoning of his main rival, Viktor Yushchenko. Some have even suggested that Yanukovych was expecting a much more serious attack -- that the whole incident was a planned publicity ploy dreamt up by spin doctors -- and reacted accordingly, even though the hurled object turned out to be only an egg, which spoiled the show.
Yanukovych spokeswoman Herman recently told journalists that she is planning to write a book about Yanukovych titled "The Iron Master."

Yushchenko campaign manager Oleksandr Zinchenko said the attack was a preplanned campaign stunt. "Feeling sympathy with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who actually endured some unpleasant moments, we, however, consider that the Ivano-Frankivsk incident was a purposeful provocation against Viktor Yushchenko, which developed under a scheme tested long ago," Zinchenko said. "This scheme implies that Yushchenko is traditionally held accountable for the actions that are staged spontaneously, or following an order from his opponents, by some citizens who have no relations whatsoever to Yushchenko."

Regardless of what Ukrainian investigators may eventually discover about the egg attack, it seems unlikely that the incident will result in additional votes for Yanukovych in the 31 October elections. The sight of the prime minister's 100-kilogram body collapsing under the impact of a raw egg is definitely not tear-jerker material, or even sympathy inspiring, particularly given Yanukovych's portrayal by the government-controlled media as a man of "iron character." Yanukovych spokeswoman Herman recently told journalists that she is planning to write a book about Yanukovych titled "The Iron Master."

Indeed, the Ukrainian public reacted to Yanukovych's misfortune in Ivano-Frankivsk with a plethora of jokes, several dozen of which are circulating on the Internet. We will repeat two here, to show that Ukrainians don't seem to believe the official version of the attack, and to underscore the fact that the country's presidential campaign, which has been marred by innumerable examples of biased media coverage and serious violations of election law, has a comic side, as well.

The first joke belongs to the so-called Radio Yerevan family of jokes, which were extremely popular in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. Radio Yerevan was famous for providing sometimes silly, sometimes clever, but always funny, answers to listener questions. "Can an egg be sharp-edged?" Ukrainian Radio inquires of Radio Yerevan in the wake of the Yanukovych incident. "If it's a hedgehog's egg, it can," is Radio Yerevan's answer.

The other joke is this: Yanukovych shows up at a meeting with voters, looks around the gathered group, and asks, "Why are there only women here?" Someone offers this answer: "Because your chief bodyguard said no one with eggs could come in." In common usage, the Ukrainian word for eggs, yaytsya, also refers to testicles.

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