Two years ago, the violent reputation of Ukraine’s soccer hooligans prompted calls in Europe for a Euro-2012 boycott. Now, the “ultras” — as hard-core soccer fans, including many violent hooligans, are commonly known in Eastern Europe — have found political redemption by safeguarding Ukraine’s Euromaidan protesters as they face off against police and the so-called “titushky,” the pro-government thugs who many allege are hired muscle. Opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok, the head of the nationalist Svoboda party, publicly praised the role of the ultras in a late-night speech on January 25 following the opposition’s rejection of a partnership deal with President Viktor Yanukovych. Glory to Ukraine! And I’ll continue the theme of the soccer fans,” Tyahnybok said. “Let us applaud the heroic soccer fans of Dnipro Cherkasy, Karpaty Lviv, and Vorskla Poltava! This is where solidarity starts. This is where patriotism starts!” (…) The sudden support of the ultras — made up of working-class young men traditionally seen as Yanukovych’s base — is considered such a sea change that they’ve even earned their own icon on maps charting Euromaidan’s progress. As of January 27, ultra support for Euromaidan activities had been registered in 17 cities. In many regions, however, the ultras may be motivated less by Maidan sympathies than by antipathy for the titushky, whose ranks are filled by approximately the same demographic. Tavria ultras in the Crimean city of Simferopol have indicated they do not support EU integration but are infuriated by attacks on Ukrainian citizens, which they attribute to “gang rule and lawlessness established by the police in order to protect powerful criminals.”
via radio free europe: Who Are Ukraine’s ‘Ultras’?