For the second week in a row, Ukrainian social networks have been awash with cats.
As cute little kitties tend to abound everywhere on the Internet, you might think this is hardly unusual.
But these felines are at the heart of an intriguing political row
ahead of Ukraine's parliamentary elections in just over two months.
The story made headlines when antigovernment billboards that took a humorous swipe at the ruling Party of Regions were pasted over in the eastern city of Dniprodzerzhynsk in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
One of the billboards depicted a cat with an elderly woman who says: "I found out my grandson voted for the Party of Regions, so I rewrote [my will] to give my house to the cat."
Photographs of the old lady and her kitty soon appeared on social media and have been making the rounds ever since.
Rumors quickly circulated that the billboards were removed because local officials wanted to put a halt to such negative campaigning, an accusation that they deny.
The owner of the billboard space has also denied that there was any pressure from the authorities to get rid of the posters.
In a video address
published on YouTube on August 18, Olena Dzarasova said that a decision was taken to remove the billboard with the cat because of "an obscene word."
She neglected to mention which word had caused such offense.
Dzarasova also accused the man behind the ad campaign, Maksym Holosnyy, of falsely claiming that she had ended up in the emergency room at a hospital after being contacted by a high-ranking official.
Man On The Run
Holosnyy, 30, is running for parliament in the elections, which are scheduled for October 28.
He is also running away from the police.
The former regional village head went into hiding after the authorities launched a criminal investigation against him over theft allegations.
He claims that the charges are politically motivated because of his oppositionist stance, but police insist the probe has nothing to do with the antigovernment billboard campaign he created.
Writing to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Holosnyy said he had not expected
the cat billboard to achieve such notoriety.
He believes it was the local authorities' heavy-handed response that made his campaign so popular.
"[Without them] the most people we could have hoped to reach would have been a small percentage of residents on the left bank of Dniprodzerzhynsk," he said.
"The main motive [for the advertising campaign] was to protest," he added. "It was a protest against monotonous and dull political advertising, a protest against false 'improvements,' against the blatant PR of the authorities, the one-sided presentation of information by corrupt media, the repression of political dissent and, ultimately, against elections without choice."
Although Holosnyy is no longer affiliated with any party, he himself used to be a member of the Party of Regions. He told RFE/RL that he became a member in 2004 when he was still an architecture student "partly as a result of his opposition" to the Orange Revolution.
Nonetheless, Holosnyy maintains he was not active in the party and did not pay membership fees, even though he decided to renew his membership in 2010 in order to be elected as a village head.
"I was told in private that it would be difficult for me to get elected without being on the Party of Regions' ticket, and I wanted to give it a try," he said.
However, Holosnyy was expelled from the ruling party in 2011. He believes this happened because of his independent views.
Now it seems his billboard attack on the party has sparked a grassroots opposition campaign.
On August 19, a small group of "Grandmother and Cat" supporters gathered for their first public meeting on the other side of the country in the western town of Ternopil.
Two participants, including a regional council deputy, even brought cats to the meeting.
A "Grandmother and Cat" Facebook group
has also been set up and currently has nearly 3,000 members. There are several other Internet groups dedicated to the same theme.
PHOTO GALLERY: Some of the creative ways that photoshoppers have spun the "kotofot" scandal since it broke:
In fact, it has become such a ubiquitous meme that some Ukrainian social-network users have already started to complain that they have had their fill of cats.
But, as prominent blogger Yuri Lukanov has pointed out, this spontaneous outburst of creativity is unlikely to be silenced until it runs out of steam by itself.
Funnily enough, one of the last people to find out about the whole billboard brouhaha is the grandmother in the picture.
Local media have reported -- and Holosnyy has since admitted -- that the photograph of the old lady on the placard was filched from the Internet.
Apparently, she is a woman who lives in Russia and knew nothing about her new role in Ukraine until she became a web sensation.
-- Maryana Drach