HUMZA Yousaf has been accused of being “deeply insensitive” after asking a group of women who fled the war in Ukraine, “Where are all the men?”

One woman told him: “They stay in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving since Russia invaded more than a year ago in order to defend their nation from destruction.

The Tories called it "toe-curlingly crass" of Mr Yousaf.

The Health Secretary made the remark, which appeared to be some kind of joke, while visiting a Ukrainian Club in Edinburgh as part of his SNP leadership campaign.

The visit was teed up by campaign manager Neil Gray, the  Scottish Government's minister for refugees, who has taken the lead on the response to Ukraine.

Mr Yousaf spoke to around a dozen women about their experience of coming to Scotland.

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They said their main concerns were housing, learning English and the care of their children. 

At the end of the half-hour visit, the women asked if they could have a selfie with Mr Yousaf.

As they crowded together and joked, he said: “One question I have is, Where are all the men? Are there any here?”

There was surprised laughter and a woman told him: “They stay in Ukraine.”

Suddenly turning serious, Mr Yousaf then asked: “So did all of you come without family, your main family members? Did your husbands come as well?”

One woman said her husband had come when the war started, but the others were quiet.

Mr Yousaf then said he had been at a rally in Glasgow’s George Square and talked to a girl whose father had lost a leg in the war.

“Look, we, we, 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.”

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Mr Yousaf later denied it had been a gaffe and he had been clumsy and insensitive.

However Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, who has taken a Ukrainian refugee into his home, said Mr Yousaf’s remark was “astonishing”.

He said: "From the man who would lead Scotland, this is clumsy, insensitive and displays a real ignorance of international affairs."

"Many of these women could have male relatives fighting and dying on the Eastern front, defending not just Ukraine but the free democracies of the world.

"Humza Yousaf has an awful ability to put his foot in his mouth."

He added: “The men of Ukraine are right now the frontline for the free democracies of the world. 

“That could be immensely triggering to people who may well have lost male relatives on the front line, or desperately keen to see them again and know that there is no end date in sight as to when that might be, because the moratorium on men leaving Ukraine is still in force.

“It won’t be lifted until the war ends. It’s deeply insensitive.”

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.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie tweeted: "Further evidence that Humza Yousaf is out of his depth. This is embarrassing."

The BBC's James Cook later asked Mr Yousaf about the "cringeworthy moment", telling him: "We know where the men are, they're fighting and dying in Ukraine.”

Mr Yousaf replied: "A number of men are here. I don’t think any of the women were at all offended or upset, but you can speak to them, of course, about that if you wish.

"I think it was a very good natured conversation and good Q&A, a good chance for them to engage directly with me and tell me what more the government can do."

The Herald then put it Mr Yousaf that he had made a "stone cold gaffe" and asked if he wanted to say sorry for it.

He said: "No. None of the Ukrainian women have asked me to apologise. I’ve just met a few of the men just now, from Ukraine, so to suggest that there’s none here... actually I've just met with a couple of them."

Put to him that his remark illustrated the criticism of him that he is polished but shallow, he said:  "A number of them  [the women] have told me of course that their husbands are here.  I certainly got warmth from the women down there and a very good engaging conversation."

Asked if his remark had been "clumsy and insensitive", he said: "Look, again, certainly the woman there certainly didn't seem to think so."

Asked if he would say the same thing again, he said: "If I was speaking to them, was asking about their families, of course I’d ask them about their families, including their husbands and how their husbands are, where they are and how they are, and whether they're in Ukraine or whether they're here in Edinburgh."