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Yulia Tymoshenko’s daughter: bar Ukraine president from Olympics

20.06.2012    source:
Luke Harding
Eugenia Tymoshenko calls on UK Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw invitation, saying Euro 2012 boycott has been ineffective

Photograph: Nigel Treblin/AP

Eugenia Tymoshenko, who said the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had ignored European leaders’ Euro 2012 boycott. The daughter of the jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenkohas urged David Cameron to withdraw President Viktor Yanukovych’s invitation to next month’s Olympics.

The British government is boycotting the group stage of the Euro 2012football championship in Ukraine in protest at the deteriorating human rights situation and the jailing of Tymoshenko, the country’s former prime minister, last year.

But in an interview with the Guardian before Tuesday’s Ukraine v England game, Eugenia Tymoshenko said the boycott by the UK and other EU countries had been ineffective. Yanukovych had ignored it, she said, with prosecutors indicating on Monday that Tymoshenko would additionally be charged with murder.

The deputy prosecutor Renat Kuzmin told the Kommersant newspaper he had enough evidence to charge her with the killing 16 years ago of the businessman and MP Yevhen Shcherban. He was gunned down at an airport with his wife and aide in a contract-style killing.

Tymoshenko denies the allegations. Her party says they are part of Yanukovych’s campaign to eliminate his political opponents. "Ukraine is ruled by a dictator who sets his servants loose against all those who have the courage to speak out against the country’s sliding towards a criminal abyss, " it said.

Given the boycott’s apparent failure, Eugenia said Downing Street should withdraw Yanukovych’s invitation to the Olympics opening ceremony on 27 July. Ukraine’s foreign ministry has confirmed he wants to attend. She also urged the UK to introduce visa bans for high-ranking Ukrainian officials who had "illegally enriched" themselves and a freeze of their UK assets.

Eugenia acknowledged Yanukovych was "getting the message" from EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, as well as from diplomats and EU parliamentarians, but added: "He’s closing his eyes and ears." She said his priority was to keep Tymoshenko in jail and to ensure his ruling Party of Regions won – or "falsified" – October’s parliamentary elections. "The elections are essential for his continued political existence, " she said.

Tymoshenko is in a hospital in eastern Kharkiv, one of Ukraine’s four Euro 2012 host cities. Eugenia said her mother was "feeling a little bit better" following a 21-day hunger strike in April, but still had acute back pain and was unable to walk unaided.

She said conditions for her mother were humiliating, with guards watching her get changed and receive treatment, via video surveillance cameras. She added the two guards who allegedly beat her up in April – causing bruises on her arms and stomach – were still assigned to her, causing her immense psychological strain.

"It’s an embarrassing situation for them as well. We now cover the cameras when she gets her treatment. Staff have told us that when we see her in the meeting room there are also hidden cameras and audio devices."

Eugenia added her mother was watching Euro 2012 games on a small TV set in her hospital room, and would see England’s decider against Ukraine on Tuesday. She added: "It’s very painful for us that the people who made Euro 2012 a reality are now watching it from TV in prison. The whole situation has been turned upside down. She’s cheering for the Ukraine team, of course. She’s thankful that [EU] politicians understand the situation, and don’t want to legitimise Yanukovych or his cynical repressions."

All the governments in Group D – England, France and Sweden – have boycotted matches in Ukraine. Downing Street has signalled it may send ministers to knock-out stage games, including a possible semi-final in Warsaw. With a distinct absence of EU guests, Yanukovych has filled the VIP terrace at Kiev’s Olympic stadium with his family, including his two sons, and political supporters. The only significant foreigner who has attended has been Michel Platini, Uefa’s president.

Merkel announced in May that she and her cabinet would not attend any matches played by Germany in Ukraine unless Tymoshenko was released. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, called for Tymoshenko to be freed, while the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, announced he was also staying away.

Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years last October for what western diplomats say was a blatantly politically motivated case.

Government insiders in Kiev say the decision to persecute Tymoshenko comes from Yanukovych personally. Yanukovych fails to understand how western decision-making works, they add, and believes the problem can be solved by repeatedly "explaining" Tymoshenko’s guilt.

He is also terrified of Tymoshenko, they add, believing her capable of dark plots against him.

Eugenia, who spent nine years in Britain and studied at the LSE, said she was immensely "grateful" that the government was standing up for democracy and Ukraine’s opposition, several of whose members are in jail. She added: "Our government is a mafia oligarchy. Yanukovych is treating Euro 2012 as his own private property."

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