Jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has ended her hunger strike. But will that defuse the diplomatic crisis over EURO 2012 matches to be played in Ukraine? Local fans have mixed feelings.
The hunger strike is now long over. In mid-May, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was transferred from prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv to a local hospital as she declared she was ready to end her hunger strike. She had stopped eating three weeks earlier to protest her treatment in prison. She has since been treated by German doctors.
The hunger strike and reports of alleged prison beatings sparked outrage in western Europe, especially in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated plans for a Europe-wide political boycott of Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine, a prospect that vexed the government in Kyiv.
But the head of the tournament's Ukrainian organization committee seemed nonchalant at a press conference earlier this month. "What boycott?" Markian Lubkivskij said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, meanwhile, was nonplussed by the western European boycott plans. "What is this debate about boycotting the European Championships?" he asked. "How are we supposed to react?" He said the tournament would be a festival for the country and its people.
Ukrainian media have extensively covered the possible boycott of the tournament. Just weeks before the first match, cancellations have been piling up as more and more European officials declare they will not attend any matches on Ukrainian turf.
German Development Minister Dirk Niebel and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso were among those to say they want to protest Ukraine's democratic shortcomings.
Ukrainian fans split
Ukrainian fans are split on the issue. Some express understanding, while others criticize the debate. The Ukrainian Football Federation, for its part, has been keeping tight-lipped.
"Our position corresponds to that of the Union of European Football Associations UEFA," a spokesman said, adding it is best not to mix a sports event and politics.
"What's most important for us is that UEFA is 99 percent satisfied with Ukraine's preparations for the championship," the official said. He also dismissed the boycott threats from prominent western politicians as "personal opinions."
Andrej Kapustin, a Kyiv blogger and Euro 2012 expert, told DW the boycott issue plays a minor role for fans in Ukraine. He said they do not care much whether Merkel shows up for a match in their country, though he does admit that the western attitude is justified. "I think the European reaction to issues like selective justice and increasing pressure on Ukraine's media is adequate," he said.
But Kapustin added that, as far as fans are concerned, it is much worse for Ukraine that only 3 out of the 16 European teams have set up training camps in the country.
Olexandr Popov, editor-in-chief of the online soccer portal "Dynamo Kiev," said a boycott only makes sense if it is effective.
"Perhaps we'll be ashamed by the boycott," he said, but he warned against expecting a boycott to bring about domestic policy changes in Ukraine.
In various online platforms, some football fans have shown understanding of the boycott.
"That was bound to happen," one commentator said, "I'm all for the Ukrainian leadership being penalised."
On the other side, one person wrote, "Fans shouldn't be punished for their government's mistakes."
According to Kapustin, Ukraine's leadership did not expect Tymoshenko's treatment to draw so much criticism. But he said there are no signs Kyiv will give in to the pressure and release Tymoshenko or let her travel to Germany for medical treatment.
"You'd have to wait and see at what point businesses begin to feel the consequences of a boycott and run into problems in Europe," Kapustin added. For him, economic pressure would be more effective than the planned boycott.
Author: Roman Goncharenko / db
Editor: Shant Shahrigian / Ben Knight