A prominent member of the Brazilian right is facing calls to resign after he was exposed in leaked audio messages making a succession of callous and misogynistic remarks about Ukrainian refugees during a purportedly humanitarian mission to the recently invaded country.
Arthur do Val, a São Paulo congressman and former supporter of Brazil’s rightwing president, Jair Bolsonaro, made a three-day trip to the region last week, supposedly to raise awareness of the human cost of Vladimir Putin’s attack.
On Thursday Do Val, 35, tweeted a photograph of himself surrounded by crates of motolov cocktails in the border city of Uzhhorod. His traveling partner, the rightwing activist Renan Santos, said they had donated thousands of dollars, helped refugees cross the border and “filmed the reality of a country at war”.
Do Val’s trip had the blessing of Sergio Moro, the conservative ex-judge and minister who hopes to challenge Bolsonaro and his leftwing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October’s presidential election. “It’s always commendable when we put our words into practice,” Moro tweeted.
Such ostensibly noble objectives were shattered on Friday, however, when the Brazilian media published audio messages in which Do Val spoke in highly offensive terms about Ukrainian refugees – more than 1.3 million of whom have fled overseas since Vladimir Putin’s 24 February invasion.
In one recording, the politician says: “I’ve just crossed the border on foot between Ukraine and Slovakia. Bro, I swear to you … I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of beautiful girls. The refugee queue … it’s like 200metres-long or more of just total goddesses … it’s some incredible shit … the queue outside Brazil’s best nightclub … doesn’t come close to the refugee queue here.”
In a second excerpt, Do Val says: “Let me tell you, they’re easy because they’re poor.”
In a third he makes obscene remarks about female security officials at the Ukraine/Slovakia border, before adding: “Just unbelievable, dude. As soon as this war’s over, I’m coming back.”
The comments sparked revulsion, with more than 40,000 people signing an online petition demanding Do Val’s expulsion from São Paulo’s 94-seat parliament.
Fabiana Tronenko, the wife of Ukraine’s former ambassador to Brazil, published a tearful Twitter video in which she called the politician a shameless cretin. “Show some respect, you punk … you’ve no idea what the Ukrainian people are going through.”
Ukraine’s chargé d’affaires in Brazil, Anatoliy Tkach, called the remarks unacceptable.
Do Val, who returned to Brazil on Saturday to discover he had lost key allies and his girlfriend, apologised and sought to justify his words. After three days “without drinking water or having a shower” he claimed he had become “over-excited”.
“My mind was racing. I talked nonsense,” he said, abandoning plans to run for São Paulo’s governorship.
Critics were unimpressed, calling his behaviour typical of Brazil’s chauvinist and testosterone-charged hard-right.
“How nauseating,” tweeted Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of Brazil’s Workers’ party. “This is the kind of person who elected Bolsonaro! He must be stripped of power.”