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Two Ukrainian boxers of wide fame, brothers Klychko, in the context of orange colours
The crowd of hundreds of thousands went wild when Vitali and Volodymyr Klychko joined Viktor Yushchenko on the stage in Kyiv’s Independence Square.
For four weeks since the Orange Revolution began, the crowd had grown accustomed to shouting “Yu-shchen-ko! Yu-shchen-ko!” That night Yushchenko himself led the crowd in greeting the brothers and chanting “Klychko! Klychko!” in the crisp night air.
It was the last week before the December 26 re-run of the second round of Ukraine’s presidential elections. The two brothers flanked the presidential candidate who embraced the brothers, thanking them for their support.
This was Vitali Klychko’s first visit to Ukraine since the Orange Revolution began. He was fresh from defending his World Boxing Council heavyweight title in a fight with Danny Williams a few days before. Vitali had entered the ring with an orange handkerchief tied to his black trunks and proceeded to pummel his opponent and won by technical knock-out in the eighth round. After the win, orange streamers showered down to the arena in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay.
This was not the first time on stage for his younger brother Volodymyr. He had taken the stage on the third day of the protest against rigged elections wearing a bright orange scarf and tie to show his support for Yushchenko.
“Just as in sports, political battles are fought according to clearly defined rules. If an athlete breaks those rules, then he is disqualified and the results are annulled,” Volodymyr told the crowd.
He went on to refer to Yushchenko as “President Yushchenko” and tens of thousands went wild. Official election results claimed the other candidate was president. Klychko’s appearance provided a significant moral boost to protesters many of whom braved the cold to pitch more than three hundred tents on the capital city’s main street.
The Klychko brothers could have easily stayed away from Ukraine’s political fray. Both are successful enough in their own careers that becoming involved in the dirty presidential election campaign might have seemed like a bad idea.
But they did more than simply declare their support for Yushchenko.
They appeared in television ads supporting Yushchenko. In an effort to help the protesters’ cause, the Klychkos enlisted the help of sports and music stars in Germany and the United States, who recorded messages of support to the Ukrainian people. The list includes musicians Sting, Chris de Burg, Joe Cocker, tennis star Boris Becker and soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer.
Volodymyr campaigned for Yushchenko in Kyiv while Vitali took his pro-Yushchenko message to the city of Zaporizhzhya in the last days of the campaign.
While in Kyiv, the Klychkos gave a press conference and took the time to answer a few questions about their political choice and involvement.
Below, in a condensed form are some of the things that the Klychko brothers said at the press conference.
Vitali: My last fight occurred in the context of “orange” colors and this victory, regardless of electoral preference in the east or the west, was a victory of all the Ukrainian people. I am proud that after the battle was won, the Ukrainian flag was raised and our national anthem was played.
Millions of people decided to demonstrate their protests against falsifications, in support of democracy for freedom of speech, the right to choose, the right to cast a vote for one or another candidate. And those processes we see happening in some regions of Ukraine, as in Donetsk, have no future. They have no future in terms of what the Ukrainian people want to achieve. There is no place for that kind of behavior in a democratic society.
Unfortunately, people in the east of Ukraine do not have free access to information. They do not have an objective understanding of what is happening in Ukraine. We go to the eastern regions of Ukraine to express our political point of view, to speak with people and try to open their eyes and perhaps change the forced views that were beaten into their heads by those vehicles of mass media that, unfortunately, present the facts in a one-sided manner and do not reflect the real way events are unfolding.
We all aspire to a good life, a bright future, a free future, a democratic tomorrow that we will be able to pass on to our children. We have taken the first steps towards that future by protesting against the falsification of elections, against those people who are purposefully slowing down the democratic development in Ukraine.
We have our own point of view. And to sell oneself or one’s convictions – that’s below anything a self-respecting person would do. Otherwise, that person becomes a puppet in someone else’s hands. I am not a puppet. We do not force our points of view on anyone. At the same time, divergent points of view should not affect relations between people. I really hope that different points of view will not lead to a split of our nation and country. I think that common sense will prevail in the end.
I do not know a single Ukrainian in the whole world who was not affected by the events that have been happening here in the last while. My brother and I belong to the category of people who are concerned about what is happening in our homeland. We are very concerned about the processes occurring now. We have our own point of view, our own right to choose and we have said this openly and on many occasions. In these presidential elections we supported Viktor Yushchenko.
Volodymyr: We are professional athletes and spend most of our time outside of the country. We are always excited about coming back to Ukraine, especially at this time, when many changes are occurring in Ukraine, I believe that every Ukrainian has a right to express his or her personal opinion on any given issue, and we are not an exception.
Most importantly, everything that is happening in Ukraine is happening in a peaceful way. We have set a very good example for other countries. These events remind me of the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the changes in Germany happened without a single shot being fired and not a single drop of blood was spilt.
I think that the changes occurring in Ukraine today are very important for the future of Ukraine, and I consider them to be positive. We can say that many positive things have already occurred. Ukraine has already won, in terms of its image.
Beyond boxing and the ongoing bout for democracy, the Klychkos are known for their humanitarian activities. They both hold Ph. Ds in sports sciences, speak four languages and co-authored the best-seller “Our Fitness” in German, Russian and Ukrainian. They established a special foundation “Sports – 21st Century” for promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting athletic programs for young people and are official UNESCO spokesmen for the UN’s “Education for Children in Need” program. In Ukraine, they are also involved in anti-drug and AIDS awareness campaigns, using their super-star status to deliver messages of social responsibility.
The Ukrainian Institute of America will honor the Klychkos as the 2004 Persons of the Year in a gala ceremony that will be held in New York on March 8. Vitali is expected to defend his title against Hasim Rahman some time in May.
By Stephen Bandera