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article imageUkraine leader, wife defend disabled man kicked out of eatery

By AFP     Feb 11, 2016 in World

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his wife Maryna took the unusual step Thursday of defending a disabled man who was pushed out of a restaurant because of his "suspicious" behaviour.

The incident in Ukraine's ancient western city of Lviv sparked outrage in the social media and provoked a rare debate about the treatment of physically disadvantaged people in a country often criticised for its discriminatory customs and habits.

"I fully support the resentment of the Ukrainian people," Maryna Poroshenko said in a video that the president later posted on Facebook.

"Such an act toward a person with a disability is ungodly," she said.

The incident occurred to a 35-year-old taxi driver who turned out to be one of the 1.5 million people displaced from their homes in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Cabby Roman Kislyak told Ukrainian media that he had developed cerebral palsy and came to the restaurant for a planned meeting with a reporter.

The eatery's owner later explained that the waiter had stopped Kislyak and pushed him in the back toward the door because of his "suspicious" walk and manners.

The restaurant also issued an apology and called the entire case "an unfortunate chain of misunderstandings".

But the incident gained still further attention when Kislyak gave a heart-wrenching television interview in which he questioned whether his life was worth living at all.

"I know that I am ugly," he told one of Ukraine's rolling news channels.

People "are squeamish," he added. "I do not want to live, because I am a burden on society."

The comments prompted Maryna Poroshenko to tell Kislyak personally in her video message that "I would love to meet you over a cup of coffee."

Kislyak wrote on his Facebook page Thursday that he was delighted to accept.

"Let's have coffee!" he wrote.

He also urged people to join a "coffee with a friend" campaign launched by social media users who want disabled people to feel less shackled by social stigmas and have the freedom to go out.

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