In one of the world’s most combustible parliaments, MPs had better watch out. A putative new member is coming who can do more than look after himself. They call him Dr Ironfist and for good reason: Vitali Klitschko is a heavyweight boxing champion, the first ever to hold a PhD – and not a man to pick a fight with. After two decades in the ring, the 41-year-old is on his way to perhaps the most bruising challenge of his life – taking on President Viktor Yanukovych and the dominant elite of Ukraine’s corrupt political system. With elections next month and some expecting Klitschko to hang up his gloves after a fight against Manuel Charr this weekend, the boxer appears poised for that most enigmatic of transformations: sports star to politician. “We are trying to make politics more open,” Klitschko said in an interview with the Guardian. “It became a Ukrainian tradition to make decisions behind closed doors [but] … we are trying to apply European standards in politics.”
Having dabbled in local politics for several years, Klitschko has jumped into the ring of national politics and his aptly named party Udar (meaning “punch”). The party is emerging as a third force in Ukrainian politics, with about 11% support – sufficient to secure parliamentary seats and shake up the established parties of Yanukovych and the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
His supporters are known in Ukraine as the “disappointed” – people who don’t believe in the authorities or the opposition and feel bitterly let down by the failure of the 2004 Orange revolution to bring lasting change. Klitschko, who spent years living and training in Germany, says he takes its political system as an example. “I’m very happy to cooperate with the [German chancellor Angela Merkel’s] Christian Democratic Union (CDU),” he said. “And we are trying to build the same structure for our party.”