Ukraine: Weather lady stirs political storm
KIEV, Ukraine – A weather forecaster for Ukrainian state radio has caused something of a storm herself by veering from meteorological to political observations.
Lyudmila Savchenko was taken off the air after telling listeners last week that warm spring days and blooming flowers were Ukrainians' compensation "for the disorder, lawlessness and injustice that are taking place in our country." She also suggested that authorities felt disdain for the Ukrainian people.
Now, the country's top opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is calling Savchenko a hero. The opposition faction in parliament is urging the National Radio Company to reinstate her, and even pro-government parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn says he supports the call.
President Viktor Yanukovych's office declined to comment on the matter.
But Roman Chaikovsky, deputy head of the National Radio Company, said Savchenko clearly went over the line. "When a person talks about the weather, they should talk about the weather," he said.
Savchenko admits her comments may have been inappropriate for a weather report, but said she wanted her views to be heard.
"I don't have the tiniest regret about what I did — I couldn't stay indifferent to what is going on," Savchenko told The Associated Press on Friday.
Savchenko is an employee of the national weather center, whose chief, Mykola Kulbida, said he doesn't plan to take action against her. But, he said, other meteorologists will take over her job of doing the weather broadcasts on state radio.
The storm reflects Ukraine's chronically supercharged political tensions and a penchant for exploring how far free speech can be taken.
During the 2004 Orange Revolution that broke out over a disputed presidential election ballot-count, a sign-language interpreter on state television told viewers with her hands that she believed the results had been falsified. Yanukovych initially had been counted the winner. But the supreme court annulled the election and forced a rerun, which he lost. He won the next election in 2010.
Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution who has criticized Yanukovych as trying to stifle the news media, said Savchenko deserved admiration for her courage.
"My highest complements to Lyudmila Savchenko," she said Friday." We missed the moment when simply telling the truth again became an act of heroism."