With days to go before Euro 2012
starts, Kiev should be preparing for a festival of football but
the fan zone in the city centre, set to welcome fans from across
the continent, has become a magnet for protest and dissent.
On one side of Khreshchatyk boulevard, a short walk from the
Olympic stadium and the heart of the pedestrianized zone where
fans will gather to watch matches on giant screens, the
Ukrainian flag lies draped over a row of white tents.
This is not a show of support for Ukraine striker Andriy
Shevchenko and his team-mates as the country prepares to co-host
The flag and tents are part of a protest in support of
jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and one of a number
of actions that have threatened to turn the tournament into a
political football and embarrass Ukraine's government.
Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in the eastern city of
Kharkiv last October for abuse of power while serving as prime
minister. She denies the charge and says she is the victim of a
political vendetta by her rival, President Viktor Yanukovich.
The European Union and the United States have denounced
Tymoshenko's trial and sentence, urging Yanukovich to free her.
On Tuesday, another political cause took centre stage in the fan zone, as protestors clashed with police over a parliamentary
vote that would increase the role of the Russian language in the
The crowd trampled official UEFA boards underfoot as they
tried to march into Independence Square to protest at the
"Since they were not allowed to set up a tent protest near
the parliament, the majority of protesters decided to occupy the
fan zone on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square]," said
Ruslan Sekela, an activist for a nationalist pressure group,
Yet to make an appearance in the fan zone are the topless
feminist flash-mobs of the Femen women's rights group.
The Kiev-based Femen says Euro 2012, which will run in
Ukraine from June 9 to July 1, will lead to a surge in
prostitution in the former Soviet republic and entrench the
country as a sex tourist destination in Europe.
"Euro 2012 will not help Ukraine develop. The only thing
that will develop is the sex industry here. Euro 2012 will help
make Ukraine one big Euro brothel," activist Sasha Shevchenko
told Reuters in a recent interview.
Given that their office is a stone's throw from Independence
Square, it is likely that they will choose to protest in the fan zone at some point.
Instead of Andriy Shevchenko removing his shirt to celebrate
a goal, the world may see his namesake Sasha Shevchenko remove
her shirt to protest against the sex industry.
"We are going to do everything we can to interrupt and
disrupt, to break up these [Euro] events," Femen spokeswoman
Anna Hutsol told Reuters.
There is a large uniformed police presence on the streets of
the Ukraine's capital, and activists supporting Tymoshenko are
worried that they will be moved on before the tournament kicks
off on Friday.
Asked if the police would allow their tents to remain in the fan zone for the duration of the tournament, one man shook his
"No, no. [But] you never know."
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