Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian TV Host 'Sorry' For Ukrainian Massacre Joke

Ivan Urgant's popular evening show, "Evening Urgant," is modeled on the U.S. "Late Show With David Letterman" and runs on weeknights on Channel One, Russia's top state TV channel.
Popular Russian comedian Ivan Urgant struck an unusually contrite tone on April 17 as he wrapped up his daily late-night television show.

Urgant delivered what appeared to be a heartfelt apology for his earlier joke about the massacre of Ukrainian civilians by Soviet security services.

The remark had caused an uproar in Ukraine and prompted an angry statement from the country's Foreign Ministry.

The TV celebrity said he had meant no harm and regretted his "unfortunate" jest.

"Believe me, I truly had no intention to offend anyone. I simply said a foolish thing without thinking. I could not imagine that the unfortunate joke I made in a humorous program, a program in which I never say anything seriously, could spark such an acute reaction in Ukraine, a country I love very much," Urgant said.

"Believe me, I absolutely did not put in this foolish sentence the monstrous chauvinistic meaning that some people perceived."

Urgant's widely admired evening show, appropriately titled "Evening Urgant," is modeled on the U.S. "Late Show With David Letterman" and is broadcast Monday to Friday on Channel One, Russia's top state-owned channel.

The controversial joke was aired on a Saturday on one of his other shows, "Smak," in which he interviews celebrities while cooking with them.

The comedian uttered the apparently spontaneous remark during the preparation of a soup with celebrated screenwriter Aleksandr Adabashyan: "I chopped these greens like a red commissar did the residents of a Ukrainian village."

As Adabashyan wiped the knife clean, Urgant then quipped: "You have cleaned my blade."

"I am just shaking off the villagers' remnants," the screenwriter responded, much to the audience's amusement.

Although it is unclear what historical event Urgant was referring to, his jibe drew a barrage of criticism in Ukraine, where the tragedies suffered under Soviet rule are no laughing matter.

An estimated 2 million Ukrainian civilians were killed in the years that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Millions more died in the famine brought on by Soviet mass collectivization in the early 1930s. Many Ukrainians consider the famine a genocide against the Ukrainian people, a contention that has long troubled relations with Moscow.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry was quick to react to the offensive "Smak" episode, condemning Urgant's comment in strong terms and demanding a formal explanation from Channel One.

"In the modern, civilized world, such jokes are considered bad taste and disrespectful toward the millions of victims of a totalitarian regime," the ministry said it a statement released on April 16.

To stress the point, a group of disgruntled Ukrainians flung tomatoes at a picture of Urgant outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv.

The TV host had already apologized on Twitter for his "inappropriate comment," but Ukrainian authorities said this did not amount to an apology.

Urgant, it's true, had somewhat undermined his act of contrition by jokingly pledging to cook only Ukrainian national dishes on his show and call all his future children -- regardless whether boys or girls -- Bohdan, a traditional Ukrainian name.