Red Faces Over Ukraine's President Wreath Mishap

KIEV, Ukraine -- Images of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych being struck by a gigantic wreath became a major Internet hit Tuesday but also caused embarrassment after allegations the presidency tried to suppress them.

Dmitry Medvedev(2ndL) and Viktor Yanukovych(3rdL) at a wreath-laying ceremony.

The incident occurred as Yanukovych was attending a memorial ceremony for the war dead in driving rain and ferocious winds during an official visit to Ukraine by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Just as he bowed his head in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the large wreath was blown away from its position and forcefully struck the Ukrainian president head-on.

Yanukovych had been standing alone at the time, but several aides then rushed to his assistance, fixing the wreath back in place as the somewhat dazed president stepped aside to straighten his hair.

The horrendous weather had already cast a shadow over Medvedev's visit Monday, soaking the suits of both men despite the efforts of aides to shield them with black umbrellas.

The footage was viewed by tens of thousands of people on YouTube and other video-sharing websites Tuesday, with viewers captivated by the way the unruly wreath appears to attack Yanukovych.

The opposition Ukrainian Internet newspaper Ukrainska Pravda accused presidential officials of initially asking journalists not to broadcast the video.

"The whole story would have remained an insignificant curiosity if the presidential administration itself had not attracted attention to it," said one of its most prominent writers, Sergiy Leshchenko.

"Fundamentally, what happened was not even news. But the presidency's desire to cover up this episode had all the attributes of censorship."

Anna German, Yanukovych's deputy chief of staff, confirmed to AFP that a presidential official had advised journalists not to use the footage and that he had now been reprimanded for this.

"No one has the right to give these recommendations to journalists. It is the business of the journalist whether it is shown or not," she said.

"The wind blew, the wreath fell, it happened. Different things happen in nature."

The video was finally broadcast on some Ukrainian television channels in the evening, some six hours after the ceremony had taken place. Only the Kiev daily Gazeta Po-Kievski carried pictures of the incident.

The pro-Kremlin Yanukovych has long suffered from a dowdy PR image but before winning presidential elections earlier this year he sought to spruce up his appearance, donning smart suits and sporting a sharper haircut.

Gazeta Po-Kievski meanwhile praised Yanukovych's conduct.

"We can but sympathise with Viktor Yanukovych who got in such a complicated situation and note that the Ukrainian president kept his calm and dignity," it wrote.

Source: AFP