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Accused Of Stealing Billions, Yanukovych Defends His Ostriches

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to the BBC: "What's wrong with supporting...? That I supported the ostriches, what's wrong with that?"

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has granted his first extended interview to Western media since eastern Ukraine erupted in conflict after he fled into exile last year.

But in the midst of his sit-down with BBC Newsnight, after accepting some responsibility for the Maidan deaths that led to his downfall in February 2014 -- "Of course, among others, I am to blame as well" -- it happened.

He laid an egg that did not go unnoticed.

Interviewer Gabriel Gatehouse had asked Yanukovych about the luxurious residence at Mezhyhirya, outside Kyiv, that became a symbol of excess and alleged financial abuses.

Yanukovych responded by saying there was only one house on the property that belonged to him; everything else belongs to the Ukrainian state.

Gatehouse pressed him about the "zoo" of exotic animals, including ostriches, at the former residence.

In an attempt to extricate himself, Yanukovych countered: "What's wrong with supporting...? That I supported the ostriches, what's wrong with that?"

They just lived there, he added. "Yes, what am I supposed to do, go around with my eyes closed?"

That bit made the interviewer chuckle.

It also marked the start of a flood of wild reactions on Twitter.

Soon enough, the Internet did one of the things that it arguably does best, and the memes started rolling in.

"Look how he was supporting us."

Merchandise has even begun to appear. "We are simply living here":

But with all the lingering questions about events since Yanukovych's ouster, The Guardian's Luke Harding asked an important question:

Ian Katz, an editor at BBC Newsnight, replied that Yanukovych was asked about the existence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine but the answer was "not interesting."

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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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