Zany claims of drugged oranges keep Kiev smiling

UKRAINE: If this really is the victorious end for Ukraine's Orange Revolution I will miss it: not just for its non-violence …

UKRAINE: If this really is the victorious end for Ukraine's Orange Revolution I will miss it: not just for its non-violence and its energy but for its zaniness, writes Chris Stephen in Kiev.

And nothing was zanier than claims by the prime minister's wife, about the drugged oranges supposedly circulating among opposition demonstrators in downtown Kiev.

In a televised speech replayed endlessly on opposition TV channels, Ludmila Yanokovich told an audience in eastern Ukraine, the government heartland, that the protesters were bribed by America deploying two deadly weapons: felt boots and drugged oranges.

"It's simply an orgy there," she said. "There's rows and rows of felt boots, all of it American made. And mountains of oranges. Oranges! And look here, guys, those oranges aren't just any oranges - they're loaded. People take an orange, eat it. And the hand keeps reaching, keeps reaching for it and they keep standing, keep standing. Eyes simply glazed over. Just like that." What her husband thought about the speech is not recorded but the TV cameras caught one of her officials, obviously unprepared for what came out of her mouth, doubling over in laughter.


Her chances of becoming Ukraine's first lady appear remote, with opposition challenger Victor Yushchenko a shoo-in for victory in the re-run election, but Ludmila won a special place in the hearts of the Kiev demonstrators.

Yesterday the cardboard boxes where donations are given to feed the demonstrators in Independence Square each had an orange taped to the top, impaled by a syringe, showing that the sense of humour has endured nearly three weeks of freezing protest.

Meanwhile, the colour orange has become big business among street traders, with stalls scrambling to find stocks of orange scarves and bobble hats.

Not to be outdone, the Yushchenko party machine has opened an "official" merchandising store, selling a range of bags, scarves, hats and arm bands each with the official logo of Tak - it means Yes - stamped on it.

Not everyone is happy: for its last league game Shatkar Donetsk, the team of the most pro-government city of them all, removed its orange strip, playing in white instead, rather than appear to support the opposition.

Dynamo Kiev, who play in blue, the government's colours, made no such changes for their recent game in the snow, but fans cheered the fact that they only began scoring goals once the match ball was changed from white to - what else - orange.

More seriously, while the drugged oranges may be a preposterous myth, drugged dinner plates were yesterday reported to be true.

Opposition leader Victor Yushchenko has long claimed that a mystery illness that saw him rushed to Austria in the summer for life-saving treatment was poison administered by the government.

Now a doctor at the Austrian clinic has reportedly confirmed that the poisoning claim was true.

Yushchenko fell ill immediately after having dinner with the head of the Ukraine secret service. His poisoning claims are apparently to be the subject of a government investigation in the new year.