IT is extraordinary to see major figures from the boxing world, past and present, staying in Ukraine during the Russian invasion of their country. Former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko is a political leader in Ukraine. He is the mayor of Kyiv as the city comes under siege. His brother Wladimir Klitschko is a former heavyweight star too, a successful businessman and he’s consistently championed Ukraine’s pro-democracy movement through his brilliant boxing career and beyond. He is beside his brother in Kyiv.
Speaking to the BBC, Wladimir said, “Where should we go? This is our home. Our parents are buried here, children go to school here, why should we flee? This is our home. What would you do if someone gets into your house? You defend it. What else?”
Vitali said, “It’s a war against the civilian world. It’s a war against democracy because Ukraine held the direction to be a modern, European country.
“We need support, support from the whole world because it’s a challenge for the whole of modern society.”
“During the day I’m responsible for the whole critical infrastructure of Kyiv, gas, electricity, water, heating. It’s 24 hours [a day] and during the night three, four or five times we go to the bunkers because of bombing alarms. Every night. Every night. The people right now are living week long in bunkers, without services, without nothing, children have been born there already. The situation is very critical,” he explained. “We don’t want to go into a Russian empire. We see our future as part of the European family, a democratic, modern Ukraine.”
These are people with the resources to be almost anywhere else. Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko, two of the best active boxers in the sport today, both travelled back to Ukraine after Russia invaded. Both have joined territorial defence battalions and are prepared to take up arms.
Usyk told CNN, “Maybe, it’ll sound sentimental but my soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honour belong to my country, to my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear. There’s just bafflement – how could this be in the 21st century?”
“The bombing around is crazy,” he added. “They just bombed the city of Mariupol, one of my friends got a rocket in his roof. [The Russians] are not playing games.
“Russian people don’t really know exactly what’s going on here. They’re not seeing what’s going on. They are victims of their President [Vladimir Putin].”
After beating Anthony Joshua last September, Usyk was due to make a vastly lucrative defence of his WBO, WBA and IBF belts in a rematch. But the Ukrainian is putting any plans for that, understandably, on hold. “I really don’t know when I’m going to be stepping back in the ring,” he said. “My country and my honour are more important to me than a championship belt.”