Vitali Klitschko: World champion fights for power in Ukraine

The WBC world heavyweight is building a political party – and he's siding with the country's jailed ex-leader

Yalta, Ukraine

As Ukraine's political arena becomes ever more fractious and ill-tempered, a man who is better known for knocking his opponents to the ground is hoping to rise above the fray and unite his country. Vitali Klitschko, the WBC world heavyweight boxing champion, is building his own political party, and perhaps fancies himself as a future president of Ukraine.

The 40-year-old Mr Klitschko, who is still a professional boxer, heads the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, which handily makes the acronym Udar, or punch in Russian and Ukrainian. Nicknamed Dr Ironfist for his formidable record in the ring, the boxer has never been knocked out.

He has been less successful in the political arena, losing out in mayoral elections in Kiev in 2006. But in recent months, the fortunes of Udar seem to be in the ascendancy.

Last week, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who helped lead the Orange Revolution and was the country's most prominent opposition politician, was jailed for seven years. If the sentence is not overturned on appeal, Ukrainians will need to find a new generation of opposition politicians to harness the discontent with President Viktor Yanukovych, and Mr Klitschko could be one of the main beneficiaries.

"The main value of our party is to put people first, to give people a real choice,"Mr Klitschko told the The Independent. "Unfortunately, today most politicians in Ukraine seem to value money first, and put people second."

The boxer was once a supporter of the Orange Revolution, but more than seven years later, the Orange coalition has fallen apart and Mr Yanukovych, the man it ousted, is back in power. And while Mr Klitschko criticises the court case against Ms Tymoshenko as politicised, his party could well benefit from her voters.

"All of today's political elite have already gone through the whole cycle from opposition to power but they haven't changed anything for the ordinary Ukrainian," says Mr Klitschko, who talks slowly and precisely, without smiling. Exactly how he would be different or what exactly he stands for is hard to discern. He talks about honest politics. But in a country where there is extreme cynicism towards politics and politicians, honesty is not a bad core value on which to base a political message.

His party has 400 local councillors and is gearing up for parliamentary elections next year. Polls put them in fourth place, with support growing all the time. Asked about whether he is ready to consider the biggest job of all, Mr Klitschko says that "if we have significant enough support from people, and the congress of the party takes the decision to take part in the presidential race, then I can't exclude it".

Twice a year,he enters the ring, and each time he takes a month off from politics and trains full time in the run-up. The rest of the year he is devoted to politics, and limits the gym to an hour each morning. He hasn't decided yet exactly when he plans to retire, but he says it will be "not that much longer". One thing is clear, however. Unlike most Ukrainian politicians, who travel with a large security retinue, the 6ft 8in Mr Klitschko has no such plans. "If I had bodyguards it would be me protecting them, not the other way round," he says, with his only grin of the interview.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea