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Football flashpoint over treatment of Ukraine’s gas princess

The European football championships, due to be held in Poland and the Ukraine next month, are rapidly becoming the focus of a political standoff. Several EU leaders have threatened to boycott the matches in the Ukraine in protest at the treatment of the country’s former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October 2011, charged with abuse of power during her time in office in relation to a gas contract signed with Russia in 2009. However, her conviction was widely denounced by the Western international community, with the EU describing it as “justice being applied selectively under political motivation”, and was seen by many as revenge being exacted by her political nemesis, Ukraine’s current President Viktor Yanukovych.

But it is not merely the circumstances under which she was imprisoned that are worrying the international community. Doctors who examined her in February 2012 said that Tymoshenko is seriously ill and is not receiving adequate treatment for her condition. She is believed to be suffering from a spinal disc hernia. International outrage was fuelled at the end of April when images emerged of her with bruises on her arms and stomach, which she claims were caused by prison guards brutally beating her. Ukrainian authorities argued that she inflicted the injuries on herself. She commenced a hunger strike in protest after this incident.

Earlier this week, after Yanukovych was forced to cancel a summit of central and European leaders due to be held in Yalta after several said they would not attend due to Tymoshenko’s plight, authorities yielded and she was moved to hospital in Kharkiv for treatment for her back condition and for the effects of the hunger strike, which she has now ended.

Nicknamed “Lady Yu” and the “gas princess” due to her making millions running an energy company in the early 1990s, Yulia Tymoshenko is one of the most fascinating women in European politics. She became a politician in 1996, and was a key figure in Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in 2004. Along with her ally Viktor Yushchenko, she led the protests against Yanukovych’s rigged election victory, and eventually succeeded in ousting him, with Yushchenko taking over as President and she becoming the first female Prime Minister of the Ukraine. However, she and Yushchenko had been in power for a matter of months when their relationship began to disintegrate and after numerous fall-outs over the following years, they both lost out to their old foe, Viktor Yanukovych, in the Presidential elections of 2010. Tymoshenko once again claimed that the election was rigged, but this time international monitors found nothing to be amiss.

And now, eight years after the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko is back in the international spotlight, and once again, the pressure is on Viktor Yanukovych. If Kiev does not, at the very least, allow her to continue to receive the medical treatment it appears she so desperately needs, then the football showpiece could turn into a political nightmare.

Photo : EPP Summit September 2010 by European People’s Party - EPP on flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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