While visiting the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, the SNP leadership candidate jokingly asked a group of women: “Where are all the men?”
There was polite laughter before one woman explained: “They stay in Ukraine.”
Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are eligible for military service and are banned from leaving the country following the invasion of Russian forces.
Mr Yousaf spoke to a group of around a dozen Ukrainian women during his visit. He later told them: “Look, we pray for the heroes in Ukraine. Slava Ukraini. We want to make sure they’re victorious. And for the fathers who are here, the men who are here, we hope that they’re being taken care of, because I can’t imagine what they’ve seen in Ukraine. Thank you so much for your warm hospitality.”
Speaking to journalists afterwards, Mr Yousaf said a number of Ukrainian men were elsewhere in the building when he made the remark. He said: “They of course were rightly saying to me that for many of them their families are not able to make it, not all of their families are able to make it. I don’t think any of the women were at all offended or upset.”
Asked if he wanted to say sorry, he said: “No. None of the Ukrainian women have asked me to apologise.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton tweeted: “From the man who would lead Scotland, this is clumsy and insensitive. Many of these women could have male relatives fighting and dying on the Eastern front, defending not just Ukraine but the free democracies of our world. A worrying lack of awareness on display here.”
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “This was a toe-curlingly crass comment from Humza Yousaf. Assuming he’s aware that there’s a war on in Ukraine, we can only assume it was a misguided attempt at humour. This was at best highly insensitive, at worst downright offensive – and it points to a serious lack of judgment.”
Mr Yousaf’s campaign manager, Neil Gray, is the minister with responsibility for Ukrainian refugees arriving and living in Scotland.