Football fans, especially the so-called Ultras, make up a separate men’s subculture complete with their own strictly enforced rules, laws, initiations, and a code of honor. Every fan community has its own traditions, history, folklore, and symbols. It is believed that the ultras of different clubs are not that interested in politics and have positioned themselves above this, placing a clear accent on the fact that ‘sport has nothing in common with politics’. Football has repeatedly succeeded in achieving one important thing that has been impossible for politicians and public figures, it has united Ukraine, from east to west, and from north to south.
This happened during the 2006 World Cup when suspense and dissatisfaction with Yushchenko’s policies were rising in the country. The same was true during Euro 2012, when the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians called themselves football fans. When it comes to football, there is no visible division between Ukrainian-speaking, Russian-speaking, Catholic, Orthodox, or residents of different cities and districts. There is only a feeling of doing something in common that unites and gives everyone the chance to be proud of their country. Meanwhile, one distinct feature of the Ultras subculture is the “sacred war” between clubs, and we sometimes see different incidents related to it.
However, during this uneasy and alarming time for Ukraine, football fans from many clubs have officially made statements with sharp critiques of the current ruling regime, condemning violence from the official organizations toward Ukrainian citizens, and have expressed their strong support for the protest actions in the struggle for “freedom and honor”. Everything began on January 21st when the Dynamo Kyiv Ultras were supported by the Dnipro Dnipropetrovs’k supporters.
In the next few days, from January 23rd to 25th, the protest movement was bolstered by the following clubs: Zorya Lugansk, Shakhtar Donetsk, Metallist Kharkiv, Metallurg Zaporizhya, Tavriya Simferopol, Vorskla Poltava, Chernomorets Odessa, and Sevastopol During the following week the supporters of nearly every club in the oblasts joined them.
It is very important to note that all the ultras groups have officially stated a non-political stance, but that they want to protect the Ukrainian people who have come out to the streets to counteract the outrageous actions of the official power structures at all levels.
When the Ultras began to act on their appeal for a fair fight and started assisting the peaceful protesters, the authorities began a real war against them. In some cities, such as Dnipropetrovs’k, Zaporizhya, Odessa, Lugansk, and Donetsk, the Ultras defended the local rallies and Euromaidans from attacks by titushki and policemen armed with sticks, brass-knuckles, knives.
In so doing, the Ultras clearly refuted the offensive stereotype that they are simply gangsters. Before these events had happened, everyone were pretty sure that the Ultras came from the same environment where the titushki were hired. Now we can all see that this idea is not true at all.
January 27th became another bloody Sunday in the Ukrainian Revolution. That day was especially horrifying in Dnipropetrovs’k and Zaporizhya, where protests and the blocking of the local administrations ended with the cruel dispersal of protesters by the police who used extreme force. Hundreds of protesters were detained, including some people who were just passing by, and dozens of them were beaten and injured. This was an unbelievable event for those cities. Persecutions were on the march. Along with protesters and citizens who happened to be near the spots of the protests, the ultras also suffered because they were trying to provide security for the people. They defended people from titushki and law enforcement forces and were badly beaten for this. In Dnipropetrovs’k, the ultras were fired at with rubber bullets, and many of them were wounded.
The official reaction of the clubs was immediate. The following is from January 26th, written by one of the Dnipro fan-sectors, the “The mouthpiece of the northern stand” from their page in Vkontakte: “We are not for political parties, or the Customs Union, or the European Union. We are ordinary sportsmen, patriots, managers, waiters, teachers, students, and hard-workers. We are not indifferent to our city, our country and its people. We are the ones who refused to take money to stand against the people. We stand for our future, our children’s future that is endangered by these outrageous actions. All those young people who are so cool standing behind the Berkut, all these sportsmen and gangsters who were bought for 100 dollars. We are addressing this to you… You have disgraced your sport and condemned yourselves. You are fools, you have signed your own sentences. You are destroying the Ukrainian nation and its future. You sold your honor for 100 dollars. You have been given-up for this sum. You have sold your land and your people for 100 dollars, and you will be put down by angry hard-working people, students, and ordinary people without black belts, ranks or medals. That is because the idea is stronger than any sort of sport, muscles or MONEY.”
On January 27th, an emotional allegation came from the FC Dnipro forum: “It is high time to finish the titushki-harlots. We are many and we are the masters of the city, not these gangsters. Guys, fans, come TOGETHER and overcome these bastards in our native city, there is no shelter for traitors. These worms should know who they really are, let us show them whose city this is. Let us fight the traitors, the Berkut and the authority!!!”
Other sportsmen who had previously emphasized their non-political stance joined the ultras in defending Ukrainian citizens from gangsters and called for “no more bloodshed”. “Dnipro has seen. Dnipro has understood. Dnipro has become angry. I know for sure that the ultras will hunt for titushki, they are only a few hundred, these bastards, they don’t know who they are really dealing with, they forgot that Dnipropetrovsk is a big village, that everybody knows everybody, the truth will come out any way. War has been declared.”
A similar situation exists in Zaporizhya where football fans and athletes are protecting protesters from policemen and titushki (the titushki have many nicknames, including political prostitutes and those that hint that they can be easily bought). FC Metallurg said: ”The authorities have provoked hatred among many people. We have two goals – to show the people our moral support and to defend them against titushki. I think that repressions will unfold against us. We have unofficial information from some sources that we will face criminal prosecution. Somebody phoned one of our guy’s mother with threats. But we will stay strong. In case of urgent matters we will be united and cooperate with the fans from others clubs.”
The Sevastopol ultras sharply criticized the cruel dispersal of protesters and the shocking violence against them. On their official Vkontakte page we can see: “At this moment our brethren on the Ultras scene in Ukraine are fighting not only with a criminal authority, but also with bastards who are ready to torture their compatriots for a quick profit. We believe that this is not a fight for the EU or the Customs Union, nor is it against Russia, nor is it nationalists against Russians, or South against West, but the fight of the people, the people of Ukraine and those who speak Ukrainian or Russian, those who have Bandera as their hero, or the Red Army heroes against the Yanukovych regime and against gangsters who are taking away the future. Because of this, we officially state that we will do everything we can to helps our friends and the Ukrainian people to overcome this criminal regime. Our goal is that the Ukrainian people will be free in every corner of our country. This is the single and ultimate stance of the Sevastopol Ultras.”
The FC Shakhtar Donetsk Ultras also joined this initiative on January 27th and made a statement emphasizing that they came to the local Euromaidan to support and defend the people: “We are not members of political parties. We came to the Donetsk Maidan (January 23) simply for justice, and more concretely to defend peaceful protesters from unlawfulness (beatings by the provocateurs). It is not so important who was there and what political goals they had in mind, the most important thing is that we are patriots of Ukraine and Donetsk! We cannot keep watching these unlawful actions and not do anything. This is happening in our streets! Now all these different “organizations” are using our name, specifically the FC Shakhtar Ultras brand, and this is a pure provocation! We are not hiding our faces.”
In addition to this, the Ultras have stated that their chief goal is the defense of peaceful protesters and their gatherings. They have been joined by other sport organizations and fan clubs in Ukraine, such as Kyiv basketball fans and the Kharkiv Federation of Martial Arts. The latter created groups called “The Defense of Kharkiv” and “Peaceful Kharkiv” and wrote an appeal to the public, stressing their political indifference and the goal to preserve integrity and peace in Kharkiv and Ukraine as a whole. “Sportsmen have nothing to be ashamed of and don’t need to cover their faces or take arms in their hands” they say.
Translated by Anatoliy Shara
Edited by Matt Mozingo