Kiev, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described beautiful women as part of the country's "brand", prompting a furious backlash from activists and on social media Tuesday.
"Tourists have always said that Ukraine is very beautiful, the food there is very tasty and the people are very beautiful, especially the women," the recently elected leader said during an official visit to Paris Monday.
"Yes, that's correct and it remains our brand," the former comedian said.
But Tetyana Pechonchyk, head of Ukraine's Human Rights Information Centre NGO, said following the comments that Ukraine's "true brand" is sexism.
"Presidents are changing, sexism remains," she wrote on her Facebook page, recalling an incident when ex-leader Viktor Yanukovych made a joke about undressing Ukrainian women during a speech to the Davos economic forum.
Zelensky's predecessor Petro Poroshenko also called on a female reporter as "my darling" during a press conference, Pechonchyk wrote.
"A woman is a person, not a brand. Women's rights are human rights!," the Insight LGBTQ organisation said.
Meanwhile the hashtags #Iamnotyourbrand and #Iamnotyourtourismbrand were trending on Ukrainian social media.
Activist Dana Yarovaya noted that Ukrainian women were "not just a beautiful national brand", but also taking part in Kiev's bloody conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the country's east.
"Ukrainian women... have treated the wounded, dragged the wounded out from under shelling and supplied the army," the former army volunteer said.