In June 2003, Vitali Klitschko fought Lennox Lewis as the 4-1 underdog for the World Boxing Council heavyweight title. Klitschko, came out strong and looked poised to take the title, but Lennox opened a cut over Klitschko’s eye, and the referee stopped the fight in the sixth round. The Ukrainian had been winning the fight on points 58-56, and the audience booed Lewis as he celebrated.
Fast-forward eleven years, and the citizens of Kyiv, Ukraine have been holding a peaceful protest in Independence Square for two months. Through freezing temperatures and no signs of remorse from President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, the citizens have stood in groups of hundreds of thousands to show their support against the current regime. The protesters have built barricades to keep the riot police, or Berkut, from dispersing the protestors.
My question is, who will lead the protesters in their battle for a new government, and a potential agreement with the European Union? In the blue and yellow corner, ‘Dr. Ironfist’, Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko is the current leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, which advocates for a westernized culture and ending Ukraine’s ties with Russia.
When Yanukovych pulled out of a deal with the EU to sign a deal to re-establish ties with Russia, the citizens revolted in the capital city, and they have continued to cause civil unrest in the capital since late November.
Klitschko, the only heavyweight champ to hold a Ph.D., will have to use his head and not his fists to win the fight to restore democracy. Despite his part-time residence in Kyiv, and his mediocre political record, the Ukrainian fighter will need to restore that fire that was present on that disappointing night in June 2003.
Millions of people adore Klitschko and seek his guidance for their country. In response, Klitschko has gotten nowhere with the Yanukovych regime. He was unable to persuade Yanukovych to avoid the deal with Russia, and he wasn’t able to talk the government out of enacting dictatorship-like laws in the country.
I believe that if Klitschko is willing to work day and night, he will be celebrated like Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Taras Shevchenko, nationalists who have come before him in Ukraine. Yanukovych has already shown signs of remorse and has begun talks with the opposition, and has asked for a cease fire from protestors in exchange for hearing their demands. With Klitschko’s close connection to the citizens of Kyiv, I believe that he will rise to the chant of ‘slava ukraini’ and will overthrow the government.
Just like against Lewis, the people are on his side. If Klitschko wishes to cement his figure in Ukrainian folklore, he should move now, or fate could strike twice, just like his 2003 title bid.