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Ukrainian Protesters Call For Boycott Of FIFA World Cup In Russia

Ukrainians in Kyiv protest against the Russia World Cup event.
Ukrainians in Kyiv protest against the Russia World Cup event.

A small demonstration was held on June 14 outside the European Union representative's office in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, calling for a boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Protesters cited Russian aggression against Ukraine and drew particular attention to the hunger strike by Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Russia on terror charges widely condemned as politically motivated.

"A blood-soaked championship is taking place in Russia. Sentsov's hunger strike has lasted for a month," one female protester told an RFE/RL camera crew as she drew a sign in chalk on the sidewalk where the protest was staged.

"It's four years since they shot down a [Malaysian Airlines plane]. The war is continuing. Russia is now hosting delegations from European countries at the football championship, with enormous pathos, as if nothing [else] was happening in the world, as if it were not a country which has locked up an enormous number of Ukrainian political prisoners," she said.

Among European countries, only Britain and Ukraine are boycotting the World Cup, although Britain's soccer team and fans are participating in the games.

But even as the protest was occurring in Kyiv, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russia to "immediately and unconditionally" release Sentsov and other Ukrainian citizens it said were "illegally detained."

Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. He has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region since May 14.

Sentsov is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.