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Ukraine's Opposition
A Lawyer, A Boxer and A Surgeon Walk Into A Bar

The three leaders of the protests sweeping Ukraine are a motley bunch. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a quiet, bespectacled lawyer and economist, has held various ministerial positions and is the leader of the country’s second largest political party, but he struggles with a reputation as an aloof intellectual. Oleh Tyahnybok, a surgeon, is the leader of a Ukranian nationalist party and can quickly fill the streets of Kiev with “enforcers” and “shock troops.” And perhaps the most entertaining of the troika is Vitali Klitschko, a giant boxing champion turned lawmaker whose subdued strength and captivating public speeches have made him one of the most popular figures in the country.

Klitschko, 42, had a glittering boxing career. He holds the second-best knockout-to-fight ratio in heavyweight boxing champion history, behind only Rocky Marciano. Famous for his powerful punches and a PhD in sports science, Klitschko is known as Dr. Ironfist. He was elected to parliament in 2012, where he tends to watch the frequent brawls that break out between rival parties from the sidelines. Since protests exploded after the Ukrainian government backed away from an association agreement with the European Union recently, Klitscho (along with his wife, a singer and model) has given impassioned public speeches at huge rallies in Kiev and emerged as one of the most charismatic and popular leaders of the opposition.

But Ukrainian politics can be just as bruising as heavyweight boxing, Klitschko has found. An attempt to unseat the government this week failed dramatically, and protestors have thinned. Those that remain see a long game ahead.

For now, the protestors are seeking to cooperate with each other to oust a common enemy: the current government of Viktor Yanukovych. But don’t make the mistake of believing the protestors are all the same: they have very different political goals and strategies. The three leaders have very different agendas. Many Ukrainians are nervous about Tyahnybok and his hardliners, who are seen as homophobic and anti-Semitic nationalists. Yatsenyuk and Klitschko are more liberal and, among the protestors, more popular, but Yatsenyuk, the successor to the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, is uncharismatic and aloof while Klitschko, though popular and resilient, has little political acumen.

But, for the time being, Western hopes that Ukraine will begin to tilt more toward Europe depend mostly on a heavyweight boxer allied to nationalist thugs.

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  • Reticulator

    If they can overthrow Putin’s semi-puppet, maybe we can overthrow ObamaCare.

  • Kevin

    Why doesn’t the EU make a counter-offer that’s more attractive to the Ukrainian leadership? It seems awfully early to just give up.

    • B-Sabre

      The EUreaucrats probably don’t want to dirty their hands by being seen to be actually bargaining with another country over membership. Heaven forfend!

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I’m going to put my money on the huge boxer, he will have the respect of the Nationalist thugs, and can intimidate the timid geeks.

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