Correction: Ukraine-Boxing Politician story
In a Dec. 4 story about Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali
Klitschko, The Associated Press erroneously reported that
Klitschko’s wife, Natalia, was beside him when he tried to stop
several hundred radical protesters from storming the president’s
office during a huge protest in Kiev on Sunday. At the time of the
standoff, Natalia was taking part in the peaceful part of the
demonstration at Independence Square about a half-mile away from
the site of the clashes.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Boxing champ turns opposition leader in Ukraine
World boxing champion Klitschko leads Ukraine’s protests, hopes
to become its next president
By MARIA DANILOVA
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Towering over his fellow protest leaders,
Vitali Klitschko, the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion,
has emerged as Ukraine’s most popular opposition figure and has
ambitions to become its next president.
Thanks to his sports-hero status and reputation as a pro-Western
politician untainted by Ukraine’s frequent corruption scandals, the
6-foot 7-inch Klitschko has surpassed jailed former Prime Minister
Yulia Tymoshenko in opinion polls.
As massive anti-government protests continue to grip Ukraine,
the 42-year-old boxer-turned-politician is urging his countrymen to
continue their fight to turn this ex-Soviet republic into a genuine
”This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that
demands justice,” Klitschko told The Associated Press in an
interview Wednesday. ”The people are not defending political
interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized
Dubbed Dr. Ironfist for his prowess in the boxing ring,
Klitschko has scored 45 victories in 47 fights, 41 of them with
knockouts. He has successfully defended his title 11 times, most
recently in September 2012, and plans to have one more bout before
he retires. He still spends several hours a day training.
Now Klitschko must prove that he has as much stamina in the
Despite earning a doctorate in sports science, Klitschko has had
to fight a stereotype of being intellectually unfit to run this
economically troubled nation of 46 million.
Having been raised – like many Ukrainians – in a
Russian-speaking family, Klitschko only recently learned Ukrainian
and sometimes struggles to find the right word. Still, he appeals
to many Ukrainians with his air of sincerity and his image as a
handsome tough guy ready to defend his compatriots.
”He is a national hero and comes across as being decent,” said
Andreas Umland, assistant professor of European studies at the Kyiv
Klitschko was one of only a few opposition politicians who tried
to stop several hundred radical protesters from storming President
Viktor Yanukovych’s office during a demonstration Sunday that drew
hundreds of thousands to the streets of the capital, Kiev.
As the boxer called for peace, the jubilant crowd chanted his
The angry protests were sparked by the president’s abrupt
decision last month to ditch a political and economic treaty with
the 28-nation European Union in favor of closer economic ties with
Russia, which had threatened Ukraine with trade consequences if the
country signed the EU deal.
On Wednesday, his party joined two other opposition parties in
blockading the Ukrainian parliament as part of a nationwide
The demonstrations in Kiev were galvanized when Yanukovych’s
government sent in riot police with truncheons to break up a small,
peaceful rally in the middle of the night, injuring dozens.
”They took away people’s hope to implement reforms, to change
the situation in the country,” Klitschko told the AP, speaking
inside the parliament building. ”They stole our hope.”
Klitschko made his first foray into politics during the
country’s 2004 Orange Revolution, the mass protests that led to the
annulment of Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted presidential win and
ushered in a pro-Western government. Fresh from a victory in the
ring in the United States, Klitschko flew to Kiev and appeared in
the heart of those protests wearing an orange scarf, the symbol of
Next to him stood his brother, Wladimir Klitschko, now 37,
another heavyweight world boxing champion who is engaged to the
American actress Hayden Panettiere, star of the TV series
Vitali Klitschko has three children with his wife, Natalia, a
former model who recently started a singing career.
After two failed attempts to be elected mayor of Kiev, Klitschko
entered national politics last year when his pro-Western Udar party
– Punch in English – finished a strong third in the parliamentary
election, running on a reform and anti-corruption platform. He was
able to capitalize on popular anger with Yanukovych, who quickly
undid many of the democratic victories of the Orange Revolution,
and with voters’ disillusionment with the Orange leaders, now in
opposition, including Tymoshenko.
A year before the 2012 election, Tymoshenko was jailed for abuse
of office, charges the West considers politically motivated.
Klitschko has joined other opposition leaders in campaigning for
the release of Tymoshenko, long Yanukovych’s biggest political
Klitschko was born in 1971 in Kyrgyzstan, then part of the
Soviet Union, to a school teacher mother and a father whose job as
an army pilot took the family to remote military bases across the
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
He embraced Western values while training in Germany and the
United States for matches, he says, and wants to bring that mindset
home to Ukraine.
”Those people who are in politics (now) do not make it their
goal to change the country,” Klitschko said. ”They are simply
plundering the country.”
Unlike many Ukrainian politicians – including Tymoshenko – who
are accused of making their fortunes in shady business deals in the
tumultuous post-Soviet era, Klitschko’s millions come from a
transparent source – the boxing ring.
An opinion poll in September predicted he would get 15.5 percent
of the vote in the first round of a presidential election, compared
to Tymoshenko’s 13.2 percent. Yanukovych would get 19 percent, but
he would lose to Klitschko in a runoff, according to the Razumkov
Center survey of 2,010 respondents. It had a margin of error of two
Klitschko’s political star has only risen since then.
In October, he announced he would run for the presidency in
early 2015, even though parliament, dominated by Yanukovych’s
allies, passed a law that sought to bar Klitschko from running on
the grounds that he spent several years in Germany and paid taxes
Klitschko was appalled, calling Ukrainian politics a dirty
business, unlike anything he has seen in boxing.
”It’s impossible to compare them because in boxing there are
rules. In Ukrainian politics, the rules are absent,” Klitschko
Klitschko has kept his two careers separate – never joining
other Ukrainian lawmakers in the frequent brawls that have marred
”Physical force plays no role in politics. The power of thought
is much stronger,” Klitschko said.
How good are Ukrainian lawmakers at throwing punches,
”If you judge this from the standpoint of (my) profession, they
don’t have any talent,” he said.
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