Tymoshenko languishes in prison as Euro 2012 unfurls


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The Independent Online

If Yulia Tymoshenko had won just a fraction more of the vote in a close-run election two years ago, she would probably have been watching Ukraine's Euro 2012 match with England tonight from the presidential box.

Instead, she has spent the tournament locked up in the Ukrainian Railways Diagnostic Hospital, a grim institution in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Her arch-rival Viktor Yanukovych, whom she dislodged in 2004 but who defeated her to return as President in 2010, has been the one performing the ceremonial duties.

Instead of the party of international dignitaries he was hoping for at the opening ceremony, Mr Yanukovych was surrounded by his own cabinet and Uefa's president Michel Platini, with the majority of European leaders boycotting the tournament. This is mainly down to the treatment of Ms Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years last year on charges that most observers see as politically motivated.

Ms Tymoshenko was transferred to hospital from her prison cell for treatment of a chronic spine problem last month. The crumbling Soviet-built hospital block is only a couple of miles from Kharkiv's Metalist Stadium, where the Netherlands have played all three of their matches. But it could not be further removed from Ukraine's Euro 2012 party. Patients laze around on benches in the courtyard outside, while inside, stern nurses pace the grimy corridors.

The hospital lift has been rewired so it does not stop at the ninth floor, where Ms Tymoshenko is being held in a room with bars and blacked-out windows. "There are three video cameras on her all the time, and there is no direct light from the outside in the room," said Rebecca Harms, a German MEP who was allowed to visit Ms Tymoshenko last week.

The Germans, whose national team played Holland in Kharkiv, have led the boycott of the Ukrainian section of the tournament. Chancellor Merkel has said she will not attend any games in Ukraine. "I hope that amid all the enthusiasm focused on the leather ball, the destiny of Yulia Tymoshenko and of all other Ukrainian opposition activists sitting in jail will not be forgotten," said Guido Westerwelle, the German Foreign Minister.

The British Government has said that no ministers will attend the group stage games in protest at the treatment of Ms Tymoshenko. Other politicians say the boycott is counterproductive.

Ms Harms said: "Those who go should of course clearly show their criticism, and they should also ask for meetings with Tymoshenko and others. But it would be wrong to boycott Ukraine as a country and hide behind the boycott rather than make a stand."