In the December 2010 edition of the UEFA.com Magazine, Ukrainian FA Chief Grigoriy Surkis said of Poland’s and Ukraine’s jointly hosted 2012 Championships, “We share the same ideas and are looking forward to the fun of the tournament.”
Less than two weeks before the opening game of UEFA Euro 2012 kicks off, Surkis must be regretting those very words due to actions which have occured beyond his control, which have led to more than several of Europe’s nations threatening to boycott Euro 2012.
Those actions centre around current Ukrainian Premier Victor Yanukovych and his incarceration of his arch political rival and former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko in a show trial for political gain over ‘Abuse of Office’. Tymoshenko was ultimately sentenced to seven years in jail.
In April of this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to boycott the summer’s championship if Tymoshenko wasn’t released, after the 52-year-old went on a hunger strike as a result of prison guards’ brutal treatment of her which are documented in photographs.
In addition, the authorities have refused her treatment for her chronic back condition, barring her from seeing her German physicians and more inhumanely, denying her painkillers to manage her herniated spinal disc while she remains in prison. When her situation deteriorated further, prison authorities forcibly tried to take her to a Ukrainian hospital for treatment.
In an impassioned interview calling for international help, her daughter Eugenia described her mother’s agony. Ukrainian prosecutors claim she ‘bumped into blunt objects’, a claim that is ridiculously laughable at best.
Since then, more European Governments have decided to pull out of Euro 2012. The United Kingdom said that it was ‘keeping the situation under review’. Dan MacShane, Britain’s former Europe Minister said that British PM David Cameron should make it clear that there will be no official British presence at Euro 2012 unless Tymoshenko is released and given medical treatment. If Kiev refused, then England’s three Group Stage matches should be played in neighbouring Poland, he suggested.
Quite possible, since work has intensified on Plan B, which would involve playing the entire tournament in Poland: something which UEFA has sanctioned.
At the same time, the UK’s representatives at the European Council wrote to UEFA President Michel Platini.
“There has to be a clear public statement now from UEFA and the national football associations on the intolerable conditions in Ukraine before the tournament opens,” they wrote. “It’s inconceivable that we follow the tournament in the stadiums in Kharkiv, Kiev or Lvov while Yulia Tymoshenko sits in prison nearby.”
Italy’s foreign minister Giulio Terzi expressed ‘increasing worry’ over the Tymoshenko situation and asked Ukraine to shed ‘full light’ on the case. Austria has stated that it will not be present at Euro 2012 out of solidarity with Tymoshenko, with Belgium and the Netherlands both following suit.
The French Foreign Ministry has also become involved and said it also had “grave concerns on the evolution of Ukraine’s political situation, notably in regards to the fate of Mrs Tymoshenko.”
In protest against Ukraine’s treatment of Tymoshenko, Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Council and Vivienne Reding, the Commissioner for Justice, have stated that they will not be travelling to Euro 2012 either.
The biggest remonstration however, has come from co-host Poland. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said outdated regulations in Ukraine allow political decisions to lead to prison terms. “These regulations, born under a previous system and until today still unchanged by Ukrainian democrats, are the source of bad temptations and bad decisions.”
Had Ukraine wished to see a taste of what was to come during Euro 2012, they had to look no further than their cancelled conference of European Leaders at Yalta. The presidents of Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic decided not to travel after news broke of Mrs Tymoshenko’s ordeal.
The international campaign has provoked sharp response from Kiev. “I wouldn’t like to think that the statesmen of Germany are capable of reanimating the methods of the cold war,” said spokesman Oleg Voloshin. “Our position is very simple. Euro 2012 is about football not politics. It’s impossible to solve any political issues through boycotting sporting events.” Ironic, since political incarceration and torture was something that made the Soviet Union so feared.
This is a huge embarrassment for UEFA, who had hoped that expanding the tournament eastwards would showcase the progress made by independent Ukraine since the collapse of communism. Instead it is now possible that Yanukovych could sit in the VIP box on his own, with European leaders shunning him.
“My mother doesn’t want European politicians to share a podium with President Yanukovych, either inside or outside the stadium,” said Eugenia.
Come June that just might happen.