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28 November, 2011  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Police vs Football Fans

Why the police raid football gangs

Over the past few months Ukraine has seen quite a few surprising incidents involving football fans. These recently climaxed in an open-ended strike against repression by police which was announced by the gangs of Donetsk. The moles, the nickname for the fans of Donetsk-based Shakhtar (the miner in English), are going to boycott all games Rinat Akhmetov’s football club plays at home. In Simferopol, the police violently broke up the fans of the local Tavria FC, arresting over half of the crowd. The Ukrainian Week’s sources claim the instruction to purge the fan community comes directly from the top cabinets. What drives the government is not so much the zeal to push football troublemakers into the backyard and keep Euro 2012 quiet. It is more concerned with the protest-ready youth groups that are better organized and more effective than the fragmented opposition party teams. The fans claim the police are seeking the right to protect tournaments during the finals which will give the Interior Ministry access to almost UAH 1bn.

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

7 August 2011 was the H-Day. Dynamo Kyiv fans and Lviv Karpaty supporters started a fight on the jogging track of the stadium in Kyiv during the fifth round of Ukraine’s Premier League.  A guy named Andriy Salamatov tore down a flag with the portrait of Roman Shukhevych, a Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) General, on it in the guest sector of the Lviv fans. It did not take long for the Dynamo fans to attack the provocateur and return the flag to their friends from Lviv. Later, Mr. Salamatov turned out to be a ukrainophobe well-known on the web. He often makes ukrainophobic statements on the Internet and is a member of the Eurasian Youth Union extremist organization which was involved in vandalizing the trident at Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak, in 2007.  A few minutes after the incident with Mr. Salamatov, the sectors containing the Kyiv fans spontaneously shouted, “Thank you, people of Donbass for the President jackass!” Immediately the slogan became popular throughout the country. What happened later proves that this was the turning point in the government’s attitude towards the fans as the video of them shouting the slogan turned into an online sensation and generated endless Internet hits, despite the clumsy attempts of the special services to delete it.  

Shortly after the tournament, the police initiated a criminal case for beating up the Shukhevych-hater upon charges of hooliganism. A week later they arrested Andriy Korenivsky, another leader and cheerleader of the Dynamo fan club. “They chose me for a reason, I think,” Andriy says. “The militia knows I’m always with my megaphone and this case comes specifically from the chant about Donbas. But I didn’t start it, it rose from nowhere. All the time I spent at the police department they kept telling me they would only release me if I admitted I was the one who beat Mr. Salamatov. The investigator played the video of the fight a million times and said, here, you hit him; admit it and we’ll release you. On the video someone’s jeans-clad leg is seen kicking Salamatov in the side, but I was wearing shorts that day.”

After the interrogation, which lasted 12 hours, nearly 300 Dynamo fans and a few dozen journalists turned up in front of the police department. This made the police release Andriy under a pledge of house arrest, although they then changed his status in the case from witness to suspect. “You shouldn’t have shouted all that shit,” the officers said at the end.

“My investigator would often leave the room and go somewhere for advice,” Andriy recalls. “He was very young and obviously inexperienced. Someone on top was supervising his actions. As for Mr. Salamatov, it looks like this guy had a very clear goal to provoke us and make the conflict totally political. That’s why he mentions the infamous Victory Day in Lviv, where the “hired Nazis from Kyiv” supposedly beat up WWII veterans, every time he speaks in public.” Clearly, this situation could be a result of someone’s efforts to discredit the fans by showing that they are involved in politics and pose a threat at the stadiums. The government has, for a long time, been trying to turn the fan movement into a laughing stock and show how the fans use every possible chance to express their “Nazi ideas” or cause mayhem. The reason for this, I think, is in the huge funding provided for Euro 2012 security. If the militia really wanted to find a quiet and peaceful solution, they would simply meet with local fans in every city and ask them to behave if they are so concerned with us making trouble. This championship is like a short craze for Ukrainian fans, they hardly even need it. It’s more of a circus that will come to town, put on the show and leave, while, as always, we’ll be pushed out of sight as far as possible.”

Andriy Korenivsky is facing four years in jail. Investigators say they are sending the case to court in November. Andriy says he hopes for the best but is ready if things go otherwise. “I’m only sorry for my mum,” he says.

UP AND RUNNING

All fan clubs of Donetsk Shakhtar, the key opponent for Kyiv Dynamo, made an announcement through the media in mid-October: “Sadly, we are forced to go on an open-ended strike and suspend the proactive support or any choreography for football tournaments to prevent potential charges and provocations. Also, we will refrain from visiting home matches as a result of the growing repression of football fans by the police in Donetsk.”   

Donetskfans that have talked to The Ukrainian Week insist unanimously that the problems started immediately after the Thank you, people of Donbas… chant. “We’ve never experienced this pressure before,” Serhiy admits. “Security officers ransacked us like crazy at the very next game after the chant for no reason, taking all banners and posters and they got whatever was left after the game. Then they broke up the fan march and arrested several dozen people for, as they said, an unauthorized assembly with radical intentions. Later, the militia ‘invited fans for interviews.’ They would just grab people from their front door in front of their families, or from offices and colleges. They did everything possible to exert psychological pressure on us. The interrogations were nothing but blackmail. Quit it or ‘you’ll all go to jail’ they said. They wanted us to stop chanting what they referred to as xenophobic slogans, such as ‘Long live Ukraine!’ ‘You’d better stay away from the stadiums and not spoil the fun for other people,’ they said.”  

In response to this, the Interior Ministry highlighted “growing nationalism and xenophobia” among football fans. The Donetsk militia believe the geography of this radicalism is expanding throughout Ukraine from Donetsk to Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Mykolayiv, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Simferopol, and Sevastopol. They tend to justify their anti-fan hyperactivity with the upcoming Euro 2012 and UEFA’s requirements.

According to the official explanation of the dispersal of the fan march, “Donetsk militia stopped the unauthorized rally of a group of young people. They were marching in the city disguised as football fans and shouting slogans inciting ethnic hatred. When arrested, they said they were from Shakhtar and Metalurh gangs, although none of the football clubs were playing that day.”  This tone resembles reports of the Russian police after they had dispersed one of a dozen Dissenters’ Marches.

The boycott of Shakhtar’s home games continues. The threat of repression overshadows interclub animosity. The ever irreconcilable fans of Dynamo and Shakhtar cut a non-aggression pact during their last game. Kyiv and Donetsk fans shouted not a single insulting word at each other during the whole game.

“CLAMP THE SHITHEADS DOWN”

The Ukrainian Week’s source claims fans are being summoned to preventive interviews everywhere from Lviv to Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Lutsk. Police officers use the same style and tone to pound their key message “to get lost and sit quiet” into the fans’ heads.   

“Actually, the current government is very sensitive about any organized groups that could be dangerous,” says Serhiy Tarshynsky, a social psychologist. “Football fans are pulled together and well organized. Once they expressed their attitude towards the government, it responded in the only way it knows how; by ordering that they be rubbed out before they join the opposition. Thus, the instruction to purge the fans comes directly from the people in the team in power who supervise the social sector.”  

An officer of the Chief Investigation Department says anonymously there has been an order to find the person who started the Thank you, people of Donbas… chant as part of the Salamatov case. “We had a call from the Presidential Administration immediately after the video spread on the Internet,” the officer claims. “The caller made it perfectly clear that “we would either clamp the shitheads down” or will find ourselves looking for a new job. In fact, we’ve been dealing with fans for a while now and have compiled a database of football fans in every city. But now there has been a clear order: they must shut up.”

There is yet another side to the problem that is not so political. This is about who will provide security services during the 2012 championship. UEFA’s requirement is to have so-called stewards, not police, at the stadiums. In the West, there are professional stewards, people who guard varying public events. Obviously, Ukraine has none of these and the government will hardly train them for the tournament. Thus, talks started a while ago about having the police in steward uniforms guard the stadiums and the surrounding neighborhoods.  

This craving of Ukrainian police to guard the championship matches is not so much about love for football as it is about the chance to get hold of the huge funding provided by UEFA and the Euro 2012 organization committee for security purposes.

Non-confirmed estimations have it at almost UAH 1bn (USD 125mn). Legalizing the police at the stadiums will be like taking candy from a baby. The right to ensure security at the championship tournaments will be subcontracted to a loyal company that will further subcontract it to the police.

Unlike Russia for instance, Ukrainian fans have been surprisingly non-extremist and non-xenophobic until recently. Today, though, their image of aggressive people is intensely promoted in society. If the nation believes in the fan threat, the police will have a chance to return to the stadiums once again, for the first time after Dniprpetrovsk Berkut, a special-purpose police unit, violently beat up Kyiv fans at Ukraine’s Super Cup game in 2007 and the police were kicked out of the stadiums. If they succeed this time, putting police officers as stewards in the stadiums and grabbing the cash will be a piece of cake, especially under the current tighten-the-screws concept in the government’s relations with its nation.  


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