Ukraine: When a budget crisis looms, this mayor dons a Speedo

Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

KYIV, UKRAINE – Facing a reported $1.2 billion budget deficit, accusations of corruption, and a parliamentary commission investigation, Leonid Chernovetsky, mayor of Kyiv (Kiev), knew he needed to give the performance of his life.

He didn’t disappoint. After jogging and doing 15 chin-ups, he stripped down to a Speedo and swam 15 meters. “I want to demonstrate to the whole world that I am absolutely fit physically and mentally,” he announced.

A millionaire businessman and evangelical Christian, Mr. Chernovetsky has gained a reputation for wacky ideas. With Kyiv facing an economic crisis, Chernovetsky proposed charging fees to enter cemeteries, selling his kisses in a raffle, and selling burial plots for frogs.

When thousands gathered outside his offices to protest corruption, he entertained them with a song and announced that he was launching a singing career. “I will make millions of dollars per day. Because who sings better than I do? No one does, except God,” he enthused.

He is accused by several political opponents of selling city land to insiders at knockdown prices and of accepting bribes. He denies these accusations and likes to present himself as a defender of the poor who fights corruption. His hold on power is maintained by his support among elderly voters – his “beloved babushkas.”

Infighting among opposition members has prevented them from mounting a consolidated challenge. After the parliamentary commission ordered him to have a mental-health check, Chernovetsky took a few weeks off on sick leave.

It’s not clear how much good it did him. One of his first proposals when he returned to work recently was to offer utility price subsidies to “those who believe in God and justice,” and a reminder that “the mayor of Kyiv will always be on their side.”

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