A popular Ukrainian TV station and the creators of a raunchy New Year's skit have been forced to apologize and delete the holiday program from its archives after they were called out for its lewd mocking of sexual minorities.
A handful of picketers gathered outside the Kyiv offices of the 1+1 TV station on January 4 to voice their anger over a Pinocchio parody that activists say was homophobic and deeply insulting to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The sketch, made by Quarter 95 studios and broadcast on 1+1 on December 31, depicted a Pinocchio-like character -- known by post-Soviet audiences as Buratino -- as transgender and leveled crude jokes about it.
Both 1+1 and Quarter 95 apologized on Facebook. 1+1 added that it had deleted all links to the controversial program from its website and archives and was prepared to provide a platform to discuss transgender issues with other media groups.
The troupe that performed the Buratino bit is led by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a leading Ukrainian actor whose name has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Zelenskiy had avoided commenting on the controversy as of January 4.
WATCH: LGBT Activists Protest Raunchy 'Pinocchio' Parody (in Ukrainian)
In the skit, titled The Carved Buratino 'Coming Out' In The Children's Theater, an animated wooden character seemingly reminiscent of Disney's iconic marionette who dreams of becoming "a real boy" announces that it identifies as a girl and wants to be called by the feminized Buratina. The name Buratino is also scrambled to spell a Russian profanity for sexual intercourse, and a well-known song from Buratino is altered to closely echo a Russian derogatory term for a homosexual. The skit also mocks the rainbow flag of the LGBT community and the letters L, G, B, and T.
The sketch also shows Buratina being rejected by its dog and father and insinuates that the character is likely to commit suicide.
The January 4 protest was organized via Facebook by Sofiia Lapina and attracted 10 people.
Lapina posted a list of demands of 1+1, including a public commitment to "prevent homophobic, transphobic, misogynous, racist, sexist, and any xenophobic content that devalues the dignity and honor of Ukrainians and fuels enmity." She also asked for a public apology from Zelenskiy.
Lapina told the TV station that a transcript of the Buratino program would be sent to international human rights organizations so that "they can also enjoy your humor."
Opinion polls in Ukraine suggest a majority of people view homosexuality as a "perversion" or "mental disease," Amnesty International has noted. The same group suggested in 2015 that Ukrainian officials had "softened their anti-LGBT rhetoric" in the interest of appeasing Brussels but had "resisted EU recommendations to officially adopt legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation" and "the threat of anti-LGBT violence remains real in post-Maidan Ukraine."
In its World Report 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued that "the government has introduced several progressive policies supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among high-level government officials and the public."
Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Victoria Zhuhan