Giant protests have been raging in Ukraine for more than a week, and don't show any signs of calming down, despite a half-hearted attempt by the president to negotiate. If you're finding it hard to keep track of what all the fighting is about, it might helps to learn a little something about the personalities on both sides of the dispute. With that in mind, it's time to get to know the conflict's major players, from the imprisoned revolutionary, to the Kremlin's "puppet," to the giant boxing champion brothers.
The most succinct explanation for the protests, is that they began after the current President cancelled a political and economic pact with the European Union that would have finally distanced the country from its old Soviet ties and moved it solidly toward the West. Instead, he cut a new economic deal with Russia, after some alleged strong arming from Moscow. The people were not pleased. But there's more the conflict than just international backstabbing, as there is also some bitter history between the president and his political rivals.
The cast of characters in this conflict is short, colorful and punchy. Let's review.
President Viktor F. Yanukovich
Pro-Government - The Chief Villain
Yanukovich is the one who cancelled the European Union deal at the last possible minute. So last minute that both sides were in Lithuania, where Yanukovich was expected to sign the deal. Instead he made a different deal with Russia, after Moscow
threatened offered "cheaper Russian gas and possibly credits" in exchange for the killed E.U. deal. Yanukovich is a former Soviet apparatchik, so that he sided with Russia in the end should come as no great surprise. After all, he also ripped off Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and a college student when writing his book.
Tyagnibok is the leader of Svoboda, a super-nationalist party with suspected anti-Semitic ties, and is seen as a right-wing hero. He's staunchly against any further Russian involvement in Ukraine's politics. His party did surprisingly well in the country's last election, earning eight and a half percent of the vote. However, their nationalistic attitude doesn't make them eager to join (or entirely welcome in) the EU, either.
The leader of the Fatherland coalition, a former prime minister, and former leader of 2004's Orange Revolution (the country's largest protests before this one), Tymoshenko has watched this year's uprising from a prison cell. She was accused of exceeding her powers for signing a national gas deal with Russia, and in 2011, shortly after Yanukovich defeated her in a presidential election, she was sentenced to seven years in prison. Tymoshenko accused the government of a "political lynching;" she was a Western-leaning pro-democracy opponent of Yanukovich's and most human rights groups consider her prosecution to be politically motivated. In order to play some role in the protests, Tymoshenko started a hunger strike, demanding Yankukovich reverse his E.U. decision and resign. Her release was a stipulation in the original agreement demanded by the European Union.
Opposition leader - The Potential Face of the Future
Politics is not how Vitali Klitschko, known to many as "Dr. Ironfist," became a household name. If it rings a bell, that's because he happens to be the WBC's reigning heavyweight champion of the world. His boxing career has slowed down considerably and he has since entered politics in Ukraine, but he continues to hold the title. The brawler is now the leader of the UDAR party (rough translation: the "punch" party), which was founded in 2010, from the shell of the European Capital party. He's now seen as Yanukovich's biggest threat at the polls when the country holds its next election in 2015. Or, alternatively, as the most likely to rise to power if/when the president resigns.
Heavyweight champion / Vitali's brother
The other Klitschko brother participated in protests at Kiev's Independent Square over the weekend and urged his fellow Ukrainians to do the same. He currently holds every other heavyweight boxing title: the IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA titles. See, look, here is a selfie with his hero brother.
Actress / Singer / Wlad's fiancée
The star of ABC's smash hit Nashville (and who could forget I Love You, Beth Cooper?) is engaged to marry Wladimir. She also attended protests over the weekend to lend her moral support.
[All inset photos come via Reuters, except Tymoshenko, which comes via the AP, and Panettiere which is via ABC.]