A bare-breasted woman wearing a sheep hat greeted male arrivals from Baku to Kyiv’s international airport this week in a bizarre stand against the perceived promotion of sex tourism in Ukraine by Azerbaijan’s state-owned Buta Airways.
Femen, a radical Ukrainian feminist movement known for going topless against patriarchy, claimed responsibility for the October 24 “sexy sheep” attack. In Femen’s own words, “the seductive sheep” was there to remind prospective sex tourists from the sheep-breeding Caucasus country of “traditional ways to satisfy shepherds’ unbridled lust.”
One controversial online ad for flights between Baku and Kyiv on low-cost Buta Airways prompted the protest.
The commercial features a young Azerbaijani man who gets wind of cheap tickets to Kyiv. Getting ready to go, he stocks up on walnuts, reportedly considered an aphrodisiac in Azerbaijan, though the man insists they are meant for baklava. The ad then shows the arrival section of a Kyiv airport, where two Ukrainian women stand with signs for Zakir and Tofik, ethnic Azeri male names. In the end, it turns out that the walnuts were indeed meant for baklava.
Mimicking the ad, the topless Femen activist, who met Buta Airways’ flight on Tuesday, held signs for Zakir and Tofik. “Welcome to Kyiv” was written on her naked torso and her hat featured a strabismic sheep.
Slavic women are stereotyped as sexually adventurous throughout the culturally conservative, machismo-prone Caucasus region and men are often thought to be travelling to Ukraine and Russia in search of, well, greener pastures.
Buta Airways, a subsidiary of the state-run Azerbaijan Airlines, did not respond to Tamada Tales’ request for comment about Femen’s charges or its own intentions in running the ad.
In the past, the Azerbaijani government itself has emphasized, as Trend put it, “the rich history of [Azerbaijan] in uplifting women,” though, as elsewhere in the larger region, many women question how that translates into reality.
It’s not uncommon for media in post-Soviet countries to play on the tired stereotype of lusty, unrestrained Caucasus men, speaking accented Russian, going for supposedly eager Slavic women. It goes all the way back to the classic Soviet comedy “Mimimo,” where the Georgian protagonist speaks effortful Russian when calling a prospective date in Moscow. His line “I want Larisa Ivanovna” has become a popular trope about supposed relations between Caucasus men and Slavic women.
If some of the Russian-language social-media reactions to the Buta Airways ad are any indication (tee-heeing at the ad, jeering at Femen's topless protester), an image of a half-naked woman welcoming men to Ukraine does little to fight this stereotype.