'Putin Khuilo!' Ukraine's Obscene, Patriotic Rallying Cry

How a dirty word for the male anatomy became a political slogan
"Putin Khuilo" graffiti in Luhansk, Ukraine (Wikimedia Commons)

Every culture has a curse word so vulgar, so base, so utterly crass that its utterance can cause a sharp intake of breath among even the saltiest of swearers. So imagine what happens when that word goes from being the proprietary epithet of construction workers and market traders to a mainstream slogan embraced by the elderly, women, and children alike?

That's precisely what's happened in crisis-ridden Ukraine, where the term khuilo has become one of the most patriotic rallying cries since "Yes We Can" or "Vive La Révolution." 

The term—which translates roughly as the rudest variation on the male anatomy you can think of (opinions vary)—has appeared on banners, graffiti, and the lips of thousands of Ukrainians angered by Russian meddling and eager to compare Vladimir Putin to said body part. "Putin Khuilo!" has even been popularized as a boisterous song, chanted everywhere from Kiev's Independence Square to far-flung pockets of Ukrainian solidarity in Japan and California.

The phrase got an involuntary boost when Ukraine's acting foreign minister, career diplomat Andriy Deshchytsya, conceded that he, too, thought Putin was—well, you know. Deshchytsya dropped the kh-bomb on June 14 while trying to calm angry crowds who had gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev to protest the downing of a Ukrainian military plane by pro-Kremlin separatists, an attack that killed all 49 people on board.

A visibly frazzled Deshchytsya repeated the slogan while privately attempting to persuade a protester not to storm the embassy. Unfortunately for him, the exchange was caught on video, where it has fueled indignation among Russia's suddenly very prim elite:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov—who once reportedly volleyed a series of f-words during talks with his former British counterpart, David Miliband— called Deshchytsya a "renegade" and suggested he was inebriated, saying, "If you don't know how to drink, then don't."

The LDPR, whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, recently threatened to rape a pregnant journalist, announced it was sending books on etiquette to Deshchytsya "to improve his intellect, culture, and diplomatic competence."

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who once hijacked the public-announcement system at Grozny's Terek soccer stadium to loudly accuse a FIFA referee of being corrupt and an "ass," suggested Deshchytsya should apologize to Putin on bended knee for his "boorish behavior." Putin—who last month signed a law banning all swearing in Russian films, TV, theater, and media—has yet to respond publicly to the incident.

The Russian president, it should be noted, has his own history of strong language. In addition to his infamous statement that Chechen militants should be "wiped out in the outhouse," he has threatened to hang then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "by the balls" and even added a tough-guy "mlya" to the end of an already-graphic sentence comparing journalism to nose-picking.

"Mlya" is a slightly softened version of the now-banned "blyad," or whore, which is commonly used by a certain demographic to lend punchy emphasis at the end of a phrase. Russian writer and curse-word enthusiast Viktor Yerofeyev, himself the son of a Soviet diplomat, once noted approvingly that "the syllables blya-blya-blya ... echo through the air above Russia like the bleeps of a sputnik."

None of these expressions, however shocking, drop anywhere near the payload of the kh-bomb, which Russian media outlets, prohibited by law from swearing, have aridly described as an "undiplomatic expression," "obscene chant," and "uncensored insult" targeting Putin. (Russian media, by contrast, have no difficulty pronouncing the name of the protest group Pussy Riot, which one U.S. television station was forced to describe as "a female punk-rock band named after a female body part which we're not going to say.")

Deshchytsya's outburst comes amid a season of florid political language over Ukraine. There was a U.S. assistant secretary of state's leaked phone exhortation to "fuck the EU" for dawdling on a joint response; former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko calling for the death of "goddamned katsaps," a derogatory Ukrainian terms for Russians; and most recently, Ukrainian lawmaker and writer Maria Matios, who came to a recent session of parliament wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the short-form slogan "PTN KhLO" to express her support for Deshchytsya. 

It's all gotten a bit much for some Kiev residents, who say curse words should have no place in Ukrainian government. "Clearly, they're not doing something right," said a disapproving pensioner who was pushing her grandson on a playground carousel. "Perhaps [Deshchytsya] should be replaced with someone stronger and more educated." 

Others were more sympathetic. "He expressed his indignation and emotions outside office hours," said a man standing next to a "Putin Khuilo!" slogan spray-painted on the battered facade of the Russian embassy. "It wasn't on a work day. I understand his position, both as an individual and as a citizen."

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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