Euro 2012: Ukraine plays on as Yulia Tymoshenko lies in jail

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the co-hosts face England tonight, the woman who once seemed set for the presidency will still be locked up on charges many say are bogus. Shaun Walker reports from her hospital-prison in Kharkiv

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 on the ninth floor of the Ukrainian Railways Diagnostic Hospital, a grim institution in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Her arch-rival Viktor Yanukovych, whom she dislodged in the 2004 Orange Revolution but who defeated her to return as President in 2010, has been the one performing the ceremonial duties, while Ms Tymoshenko has been confined to her hospital bed.

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 Michel Platini, with the majority of European leaders and ministers vowing to boycott the tournament. This is mainly down to the treatment of Ms Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years late last year on charges that most observers see as politically motivated.

Ms Tymoshenko, who with her trademark plait and fiery charisma is the most recognisable politician in Ukraine, was transferred to a well-guarded hospital room 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 the hospital 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.

Having disregarded a request from Angela Merkel to allow Ms Tymoshenko to be treated in Germany, the Ukrainian authorities have compromised and allowed her treatment to be overseen by German doctors. But currently there are only Ukrainian doctors treating her.

Karl Max Einhaeupl, the head of Berlin's Charite Hospital, who examined Ms Tymoshenko earlier this month, criticised the care she was receiving and said it was "questionable whether she can make a full recovery under these conditions".

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, and there were no German ministers at last Wednesday's game with Holland. "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, but in a bizarre half-measure it said it would only decide later whether to boycott the knockout stages should England make it out of the group.

Other politicians say the boycott is counterproductive. "There are reasons to boycott President Yanukovych, and politicians should keep a distance from him," said Ms Harms.

"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 completely wrong to boycott Ukraine as a country and hide behind the boycott rather than make a stand."

She held up a banner criticising Mr Yanukovych during the game between Germany and Holland, which was swiftly taken away from her by police. Mr Yanukovych has slammed Ms Tymoshenko's call for a boycott and said that "God will be the judge" of those leaders who stay away. He has also upped the stakes this week, suggesting that Ms Tymoshenko was behind a horrendous contract killing in the 1990s.

Mr Yanukovych suggested his political rival may have been involved in the assassination of Ukrainian oligarch Yevhen Shcherban in Donetsk, the city where England played their opening game in Euro 2012. Mr Shcherban and his wife were killed by several men disguised as airport mechanics as they disembarked from his private plane in Donetsk. Ms Tymoshenko has said suggestions she was involved in the killing were "absurd", and accuses Mr Yanukovych of becoming increasingly dictatorial during the two years he has been in charge.

Outside the hospital, a small group of supporters stand vigil all day, every day. They are mainly garrulous middle-aged women who say they are impressed by Ms Tymoshenko's courage. "She is a clever and strong woman, and she's a real patriot," says Natalia Shumilina. "Yanukovych is the real criminal, and the people that work for him. He put Yulia away because he is scared of her."

Mr Yanukovych is carrying on as if nothing has happened. He was at Ukraine's first game in Kiev, when the national team beat Sweden 2-1, and was pictured wildly celebrating Ukraine's goals. Aides say he will also be in Donetsk to watch Ukraine take on England tonight. Ms Tymoshenko issued a statement yesterday calling on Ukrainians to come together and support the national team against Roy Hodgson's side.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Email Marketing Services

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a highly or...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultan...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders