News / Europe

    Boxing Champ Klitschko Emerges as Contender in Ukrainian Crisis

    Ukrainian lawmaker and chairman of the Ukrainian opposition party Udar (Punch), WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko addresses supporters during a rally at the central Independence square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.
    Ukrainian lawmaker and chairman of the Ukrainian opposition party Udar (Punch), WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko addresses supporters during a rally at the central Independence square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.
    Reuters
    Urbane liberals are joining black-booted skinheads to protest on the streets of Kyiv, but if the Orange Revolution of nine years ago is to be repeated, they need a leader to unite them.
     
    Enter Vitaly Klitschko, a towering world boxing champion with a doctorate in sports science, who is looking increasingly like the opposition's most powerful contender.
     
    Protesters and commentators saw Klitschko emerging on Tuesday as a leader-in-waiting as the opposition digs in to unseat President Viktor Yanukovich after he ditched a trade pact with the European Union to revive economic ties with former its Soviet master, Russia.
     
    “I'd stand behind Klitschko,” said Grigory Parkhomenko, a 54-year-old retired factory worker at Kyiv's 'opposition-occupied' city hall.
     
    “He's earned his fortune with his hands, so he doesn't need to steal from the people.”
     
    Klitschko, the 6’7” World Boxing Council heavyweight champion known as “Dr. Ironfist” because of his erudition, is sharing the stage with a bespectacled lawyer who frets about his poor public image and a surgeon who leads a combustible far-right nationalist group in an unlikely “troika” mounting a street challenge to Yanukovich's leadership.
     
    The outpouring of anger at Yanukovich's rejection last month of a landmark accord to deepen ties with the European Union echoes public anger at his fraudulent election victory in 2004, when mass protests overturned the result and, with it, Ukraine's post-Soviet order.
     
    The leader then was Yulia Tymoshenko, whose electric personality and fiery speeches kept tens of thousands out in the streets through the bitterly cold winter of 2004-5.
     
    With Tymoshenko in jail, the disparate opposition alliance faces a challenge in maintaining momentum, and unity.
     
    For successive weekends, calls by Klitschko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, have brought tens of thousands out on to the streets over Yanukovich's policy U-turn away from the West back towards Russia.
     
    Tymoshenko's supporters would naturally gravitate to her successor as party leader, Yatsenyuk, but may find common cause and ideology with Klitschko, too. They are unlikely to see much hope in the hard-line nationalists.
     
    Klitschko benefits from a perception he is uncorrupted, not a product of the discredited Ukrainian political system but a national hero who lived abroad and made a fortune winning titles with his pile-driving punch.
     
    In sport, he and younger brother Vladimir have towered over boxing for years. Despite being 42, he still holds one of the four world heavyweight crowns, while Vladimir holds the other three. Vitaly last defended his crown last year, defeating a German challenger in a fight stopped after four rounds.
     
    Despite an awkward public style, Klitschko exudes a quiet strength that plays well in Ukraine. He is emerging increasingly as the field commander of the protests and could be a common candidate to take on Yanukovich.
     
    ‘Street Leader’
     
    That might not sit well though with Yatsenyuk, 39, the most tested politician of the three, who took over Tymoshenko's party in parliament and has led the pressure for her release for months.
     
    “Yatsenyuk is getting very nervous about the competition from Klitschko. He feels he is tugging the blanket to himself,” said independent analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
     
    “The authority of Klitschko is growing. He has emerged as a street leader. He led the crowd and people followed him. It is the emergence of charisma - it is not everybody the crowds will follow,” he said.
     
    Yatsenyuk and Klitschko's liberal agendas starkly differ from the Ukrainian nationalism of Tyahnybok's Svoboda, with its heavy anti-Russian overtones. Svoboda is seen by many Ukrainians as anti-Semitic and homophobic, which Tyahnybok denies.
     
    People on Kyiv's Independence Square last Sunday reacted with unease when Svoboda supporters hoisted their standard - blue bearing a yellow three-fingered hand - onto the peak of the festive New Year tree, alongside the national flag.
     
    Equally, the nationalists, many of them students from the Ukrainian-speaking west and raised on a diet of Ukrainian patriotism and anti-Soviet feeling, have little regard for, say, Yatsenyuk, a man who struggles with his personal image of an aloof intellectual.
     
    Asked a year ago by the Kyiv Post newspaper why he felt he had that image, he replied dryly, “because I'm bald and wear glasses.”
     
    However, the reality is that both Yatsenyuk and Klitschko rely heavily on support from the shock troops that Svoboda's superior organization can put onto the squares of the country.
     
    “There is hidden tension. There are contradictions and these contradictions are growing stronger… there are sharp and tough arguments going on inside the 'troika',” said Fesenko.
     
    United by a Goal
     
    “When a dog protects a house, it has to be mean,” said Sergei Ishcenko, a 53-year-old nationalist protester. “That's what we nationalists are. We are the ones who are protecting our own land and our own people,” he explained.
     
    The protesters, for now, play down their differences.
     
    “The nationalists can seem quite radical, or they may regard us as too moderate, but what is important is that we are all fighting for one Ukraine right now and we are fighting to free it from the current powers,” said Marina Ivanyuk, 18, a student of foreign relations at Kyiv State University. “After that we can sort out our differences.”
     
    The Yanukovich camp appear to have sensed that Klitschko is the main threat and have moved to try to neutralize him, challenging his right to run for the presidency because of the years he has spent living in Germany away from Ukraine.
     
    “Any serious split in their ranks will be a defeat for what is going on in the streets,” said Fesenko, the analyst. “The issue of their unity is an issue of survival for the opposition.”

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora