By Vadim Furmanov –
There was an ugly scene at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex on Tuesday night during Dynamo Kyiv’s Champions League encounter against Chelsea, when four black fans were attacked by a group of Dynamo ultras, by all accounts for no other reason than the color of their skin. Other Dynamo supporters who tried to defend the victims, who were reportedly supporting Dynamo, were also targeted.
The assault, which was caught on camera, was brought to UEFA’s attention by the organization FARE Network whose director Piara Powar said “this is a horrible occurrence that shows the realities of football in Central and Eastern Europe. We have sent an account of the incident to UEFA and will demand the harshest possible sanctions against the guilty parties.”
This is far from the first racism scandal in Ukrainian football. Dynamo have recently been issued fines and partial stadium bans due to the presence of neo-Nazi symbols in the stands during their Europa League matches against Bordeaux in 2013 and against Everton last season. Nor are racist scenes limited to Dynamo matches. In an infamous incident that occurred during a Metalist Kharkiv match in 2012, Metalist fans were filmed attacking their fellow supporters, solely because they happened to be of Indian origin.
The 2012 attack gained notoriety after it was prominently shown on BBC’s Panorama program in the lead up to Euro 2012, and famously prompted former England defender Sol Campbell to speak up and advise fans “don’t even risk going… because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” No racist attacks took place during the tournament itself, but the ugly events continued. In a 2014 World Cup qualifier between Ukraine and San Marino that took place in Lviv, local ultras displayed neo-Nazi banners and directed racial insults toward Ukraine national team midfielder Edmar, who is a naturalized Brazilian.
Ukraine’s football officials have completely failed to address the issue. Dynamo president Ihor Surkis said, after the attack during the Chelsea match, “this is not a regular occurrence, but rather an isolated incident.”— which clearly is a complete denial of the harsh reality.
Even more deplorable was the explanation offered by the vice-president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, Ihor Kochetov, who told the Ukrainian news portal Vesti “[the presence of the black fans] in the sector that is always occupied by the ‘Rodychi’ ultras is highly surprising to everyone. People of that category have never been there. Initial information indicates that these people were without tickets and were holding flares. Maybe this was a specially planned provocation. These are all questions that require answers.”
Not only are these comments shockingly racist, they are also completely inaccurate. The fans who were the victims of the brutal attack were not in the section reserved for ultras, and there is no evidence to suggest that they entered the stadium without tickets or that they were in possession of any flares. Moreover, how the presence of black fans attending a match can possibly be a provocation of any sort is beyond comprehension.
The incident has been widely condemned by the local football media. Serhiy Bolotnikov, a Ukrainian journalist, wrote an editorial for Tribuna calling for Dynamo to be thrown out of the Champions League, arguing:
“If Dynamo is spared, the federation will continue to do nothing, because they do not know what to do. The clubs will continue to turn a blind eye because they do not want to get involved in a conflict. Ultras will continue to make “Sieg Heil” salutes and beat up black people, because this is currently in fashion. The problem will be addressed and the perpetrators will be punished only when the clubs and all supporters are seriously affected, and the scandal is discussed on every street corner.”
Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior has since started criminal proceedings in the matter, and has appealed to the stadium authorities to provide all necessary material. UEFA will make a decision regarding Dynamo’s punishment on October 27. A hefty fine and stadium ban is the most likely decision, but given the complete lack of effort and desire to seriously address the problem on the part of Ukrainian football authorities thus far, it is worth asking if banning Dynamo from the Champions League is the only type of sanction that will force them to take action.
Commentary by Manuel Veth –
The incident that took place during Dynamo Kyiv’s Champions League match against Chelsea FC highlights once again one of the major features of ultra culture in Eastern Europe. In the past Futbolgrad has focused on examples of racism incidents in Russian football in particular, and with Russia hosting the World Cup in less than three years it is likely that the country will be watched closely as to how effectively it deals with the issue. In truth, however, Russia is not the only Eastern European country that struggles with a fan culture that can be only described as xenophobic and intolerant.
I lived in Kyiv in 2013, and I was able to attend many matches in the Ukrainian Premier League—I was a frequent visitor to Arsenal Kyiv, and Dynamo Kyiv home games, in addition to watching matches in other parts of the country. Arsenal Kyiv were the only club at that time with an active anti-fascist fan (antifa) group, and played their home games at the Lobanovskyi Stadium, which made it possible to observe fan groups that had travelled from other regions of the country. Most of these fan groups openly displayed fan merchandize that was either xenophobic or showed symbols borrowed from Nazi Germany.
I remember one Arsenal Kyiv home game against Karpaty Lviv, whose ultras, called Banderstadt, are deeply intertwined with right wing nationalistic organizations in Ukraine (the exploits of the self-styled Banderstadt Ultras can be viewed here). When I arrived at the match I was surprised at the number of Dynamo Kyiv fans who had come out to support Karpaty against their city rivals. For example, I noticed approximately 200 fans from Dynamo’s notorious Ultra Group White Boys Club, in the often-empty away stand, which was almost completely full leaving the home fans in the minority.
The ‘white’ in White Boys Club is a double entendre; it indicates both the colour of Dynamo’s home jersey and also refers to the more right-wing political elements of the fan group, which at the time took a strong stance against anti-fascism. But the White Boys are just one of many right wing groups at Dynamo, and Tuesday’s incident for example was caused by a group known as Rodychi, which like the White Boys have deep radical right wing roots.
Both Dynamo and Banderstadt ultras, however, will claim that they are simply anti-left wing something that is often demonstrated by the merchandize, which includes slogans like “Good Night Left Side”.
It is true that in a society like Ukraine—that was deeply affected by the horrors of a communist regime—left wing ideas carry a stigma and appear worse than right wing political views. But in fact there is a very thin line between anti-left wing extremism and racism in Ukraine’s ultra fan scenes. Furthermore, as Vadim clearly highlights above, Dynamo in particular has been punished repeatedly by UEFA for racism incidents during international matches.
In the past I have written that while racism and right-wing ultras certainly dominate the fan scenes in Ukrainian football—and elsewhere in Eastern Europe—most average fans have no political views at all, and that for the most part attending matches seems to be safe. The event that took place on Tuesday, however, indicates that a line has now been crossed: for the first time, fans were attacked in a high caliber international match simply because of their skin colour. Clearly attending a match in Ukraine is not safe if you are a member of a visible minority.
Even more shocking was the reaction by Dynamo Kyiv’s ownership, and the Football Federation of Ukraine, which claimed that these people were placed there to provoke Dynamo fans. Both the Federation and Dynamo Kyiv, are hiding behind conspiracy theories rather than working to combat racism in Ukrainian stadiums. Given the fact that Dynamo Kyiv has a long history of racist fan incidents, UEFA must now think long and hard to come up with a punishment that can bring a culture change to Ukraine’s most historic club.
In Russia the repeated punishment of CSKA Moscow have led to the establishment of CSKA Against Racism, a grassroots initiative that wants to give greater voice to average fans who are tired of the repeated xenophobia at CSKA Moscow games. UEFA therefore must not only punish the club, but also work closely with Dynamo and the Football Federation of Ukraine to bring a culture of tolerance to the terraces, and to allow initiatives like CSKA Against Racism to take hold on the Ukrainian terraces as well.
But it is important that UEFA must also clearly indicate to both the authorities of the Football Federation and Dynamo that it will not accept the usual downplaying of such incidents or the preposterous claim that fans of colour were placed there as a provocation by some dark force that wants to damage Ukrainian football and Dynamo in particular.
Yet the fact that UEFA is currently in disarray—due to Michel Platini’s suspension—means that Hryhoriy Surkis—the older brother of Dynamo owner Ihor Surkis—will most likely be able to use his influence as the vice-president of UEFA to severely limit Dynamo’s punishment turning the victims into perpetrators.
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.