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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.