Profile: 'Kosmos' - the singing, swimming mayor of Kiev

13th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Even by the colourful standards of Europe's mayors, such as the mop-haired mayor of London Boris Johnson, Chernovetsky is one of a kind.

Kiev -- He has recorded a disc of 1980s cover versions, proposed auctioning off his kisses and given a news conference in a pair of swimming trunks. Meet Leonid Chernovetsky, mayor of Kiev, whose increasingly erratic behaviour is shocking the city of three million.

Even by the colourful standards of Europe's mayors, such as the mop-haired mayor of London Boris Johnson, Chernovetsky is one of a kind.

Earlier this month the mayor -- known as "Kosmos" for his increasingly other-worldy behaviour -- took himself off on leave for health reasons but then returned to his desk early.

And to show he was still on top form, on Wednesday he performed a full fitness circuit in front of astonished local media. Followed by a news conference, dressed only in a pair of speedoes.

"I want to demonstrate to the whole world that I am absolutely fit physically and mentally," Chernovetsky said in comments broadcast on Ukrainian television.

The Interfax Ukraine news agency counted that Chernovetsky ran once round the capital's Dynamo stadium, performed 15 chin-ups and swam 15 metres (49 feet) in the swimming pool.

This demonstration came after a parliamentary commission investigating his work as mayor advised him last week to undergo a psychiatric examination.

Sitting on a poolside wooden bench wearing a pair of swimming trunks, he loudly denounced his parliamentary enemies in front of a sea of microphones.

"Look at these people," he said of parliament. "They pass judgment on me and want to lock me up for the rest of my life behind bars in a mental clinic."

He retained control of the town hall in elections in May 2008 on the back of support from elderly voters, beating off a challenge from former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

Chernovetsky won the post of mayor in 2006 following a career as a businessman in which he built a multi-million dollar fortune but was also known for his generous handouts to Kiev's poor.

He has adopted a string of novel and sometimes bizarre measures to balance the municipal books amid the economic crisis, saying he was prepared to sell everything that can be sold "including the air you breathe."

Over the course of the last months, he has sought to quintuple charges for municipal services and charge for the entry of cars to cemeteries.

"Everything can be put up for lottery: you can have a trip in my armoured Mercedes... a kiss from me or receive a book from me in front of all the Ukrainian press corps," Ukrainian media have quoted him as saying.

Perhaps his most ambitious scheme was to produce a record of covers of 1980s songs. "I will earn a million dollars a day because who sings better than me? Nobody, only God," he has said.

Ukrainian news agencies even reported that he had sacked the head of Kiev zoo for failing to find a female mate for the "very handsome" elephant he sponsors at the zoo.

The increasing doubts about the mayor's behaviour come as Ukraine fights a dire economic crisis that has hit its industrial sector and national politics remains mired in instability.

His behaviour has already become enmeshed with the national political chaos and President Viktor Yushchenko used his powers to sack five of Chernovetsky's deputies and block the bid to raise municipal charges.

By contrast, his budget was passed at the municipal council with the surprise support of the political faction of Yushchenko's sworn political enemy, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Although the mayor can readily count on the support of his core constituency of "dear babushkas (grandmothers)," polls have already shown Chernovetsky's support is waning.

The mayor himself complains of being unloved.

"I have a small amount of land. I live like most people in Kiev. I don't know my neighbours. They avoid me and they detest my cat Yasha," he said last week.

At the end of February, thousands of inhabitants of the Ukrainian capital protested outside the town hall in a bid to secure his removal.


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