The Euro 2012 football trophy sat on display in Kyiv’s Independence Square this past Saturday as hundreds of tourists and enthusiasts lined up to have their photograph taken with the top prize. The trophy will be awarded on July 1 after a month-long tournament between Europe’s best teams. The championship will be co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland.
Yulia Kovpachik, a 23-year-old activist with the women’s rights group FEMEN, stepped up to the trophy just like any other visitor to the trophy on Saturday. According to the Moscow Times, “she then pulled down her red T-shirt to reveal the words “[expletive] Euro 2012″ scrawled on her torso. As she grabbed hold of the cup with both hands, she was seized by security guards, who appeared to have had advanced warning of the protest.”
Kovpachik’s protest was aimed at the sex industry in Ukraine. FEMEN leaders fear that the Euro 2012 games, many of them set to take place in Ukraine, will fuel this industry and make “a bordello out of Ukraine.” Organizers of the games have stated that they are aware of the issues regarding sex exploitation and are currently taking steps to slow these operations during the football matches.
Ukraine has been under international scrutiny regarding women’s rights in recent weeks with the hunger strike of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is currently imprisoned for abuse of power. She started her hunger strike after stating that prison guards had used excessive force on her, leaving bruises on her arm and torso.
Many European Union leaders, including Angela Merkel, are threatening to boycott matches set to take place in Ukraine in protest to Tymoshenko’s treatment in prison and Ukrainian officials’ refusals to allow her to take treatment overseas, according to the Guardian.
A summit of Eastern European leaders, set to take place in Yalta last week, was also cancelled when 13 of 20 heads of state refused to appear at the meeting in protest of Tymoshenko’s treatment. Tymoshenko is currently in the hospital recovering from the 20 day hunger strike that prompted so much media scrutiny.
Tymoshenko has been a central icon in calls for democratic processes, leading the Orange Revolution in 2004, before coming to power as the head of government. Yulia Kovpachik’s activist group, FEMEN, has also been known to stage topless demonstrations against abuses of power over recent months. The group of women protested rigged parliamentary elections in Russia this past December. FEMEN has staged topless protests for a number of issues, but especially in response to social abuse and the exploitation of women.
The young Kovpachik was released but must appear in court on Monday. The maximum penalty is 800 hryvnias ($100) and 15 days in prison. It appears that Ukraine’s unsettled position will continue to garner attention in the weeks leading up to the matches.