One of the most significant international sporting events is the FIFA World Cup. Every four years, fans from all over the globe pour into the host country to cheer for their teams and be a part of the unique atmosphere of competition and friendship.
This year’s FIFA World Cup has been overshadowed by the fact that the very country hosting the Cup, Russia, is responsible for thousands of innocent deaths and numerous human rights violations.
Attending or viewing the Cup, therefore, for many people has become unacceptable, similar to if it were hosted by North Korea or any other dictatorship.
For Ukrainians around the world, including Ukrainian Canadians, it all started in 2014, when a number of military men without insignia took control over the Crimean Peninsula – Ukrainian territory. With the help of local collaborators they occupied Government buildings, Ukrainian military bases; installed new self-proclaimed leaders and with multiple violations conducted an illegal referendum to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation. In other words, Crimea was annexed.
At the same time, the eastern part of Ukraine was also attacked by combined local pro-Russian and regular Russian military forces. Thousands of Ukrainians, both military and civilian, were killed and hundreds of thousands wounded, as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Part of the Ukrainian territory in the East is still occupied and the war is ongoing.
Today, human rights violations are a common thing in Crimea and other occupied territories. The most targeted group are the indigenous people of the peninsula – Crimean Tatars. More than 70 Ukrainian citizens (including Crimean Tatars) are now being illegally held in Russian and Crimean jails. Two of them, Oleg Sentsov (a filmmaker) and Volodymyr Balukh are on an indefinite hunger strike.
For a month now, Ukrainians in Canada and all over the world have been organizing rallies in support of the political prisoners and to shine a light on the fact that FIFA World Cup this year is hosted by a country which regularly violates human rights.
Margaux, Hanz, Evie, Mo, and 76 other children, who were onboard the MH17 flight, will never get to watch FIFA World Cup, because their plane was shot by the Russian military using a BUK missile (as confirmed by a lengthy investigation by a multinational team).
On 17 July 2014, the Malaysian Airlines passenger aircraft was flying over Ukrainian territory and was wiped off the face of the earth with 298 people aboard. Entire families were killed and those responsible for this tragedy are yet to be held accountable.
Human rights are being violated not only in the occupied territories, but in Russia itself. In 2017, gay and bisexual men were reportedly jailed and beaten in anti-gay purges near Grozny, the capital of Chechnya and one of the FIFA World Cup training sites. The number of LGBTQ+ refugees from Russia is growing, as they try to escape systemic persecutions. Some of them have been seeking asylum in Canada. According to BBC, some British MPs have warned that attending the Cup may be dangerous for English LGBT fans.
The real question is, how many people need to die or be wrongfully persecuted, so that the World says “This is enough. We will not be sponsoring or boosting the economy of the country, responsible for such crimes and violations.” In memory of those, who perished as a result of Russian aggression and in support of those, illegally held in Russian jails, Ukrainian Canadians are boycotting FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia and are encouraging others to do the same.
Antonina Kumka, M.Ed
CUIA Fund and UCC Hamilton