In the blue (and yellow) corner: The Ukrainian boxers taking up arms to fight Putin as Russia continues to shell civilians trying to flee the war-ravaged country
- Hundreds of civilians are fleeing Ukraine’s cities as the invasion enters 12th day
- Boxing champions from the country have said they will take up arms in the fight
- They include brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko who is now the mayor of Kyiv
- Boxers Vasiliy Lomachenko, 34, and boxer Oleksandr Usyk have also joined
As hundreds of civilians continue to flee Ukraine’s war ravaged cities, renowned boxing champions from the country have said they will take up arms in the fight against Russia.
Former heavyweight world champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, who is now the mayor of Kyiv, are among the Ukrainian sporting heroes who have vowed to join the battle to defend their homeland.
Joining them is Ukrainian boxing hero Vasiliy Lomachenko, 34, who has returned home and enlisted in the territorial army in a bid to help defend his people from Russian soldiers, and world heavyweight champion boxer Oleksandr Usyk.
Their decision to join the ongoing fight comes after a captured Russian commander said his doubts about the war solidified when he saw two of his favourite boxers – Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko – agreeing to fight for the resistance.
Residents of Irpin flee heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces enter the city
Earlier today horrifying images laid bare the refugee crisis in Ukraine as Russia continues to shell civilians trying to flee bomb-ravaged cities, after Kyiv rejected Moscow’s offer to open ‘humanitarian corridors’ when it emerged that some of the routes led straight to its territory.
Hundreds of civilians were pictured trying to flee the city of Irpin, to the west of Kyiv, which has been the scene of heavy Russian bombardment in recent days – helped across a partially-destroyed bridge by members of the Ukrainian military who had blow it up days earlier to slow the Russian advance
It came after Ukraine rejected Russia’s offer to open up ‘humanitarian corridors’ from the besieged cities of Sumy, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kyiv – which have been hammered by artillery strikes for days with Mariupol cut off from electricity and water supplies – because the routes led either to Russian territory or its ally, Belarus.
The Ukrainian boxers joining the fight against Putin
Known as Dr Ironfist, Vitali Klitschko won his first twenty-four fights by either early or technical knockout and has also has won three world heavyweight boxing championships
Vitali Klitschko is now the mayor of Kyiv after his successful heavyweight boxing career
Born in Belovodskoe, Kyrgyzstan, in 1971, Klitschko entered the world of professional boxing in 1996.
Also known as Dr Ironfist, Vitali won his first 24 fights by either early or technical knockout and has also has won three world heavyweight boxing championships.
After his retirement from boxing, Vitali confirmed that he would be taking part in the 2014 Ukrainian presidential elections but he later announced that he had changed his mind and would run instead for the post Mayor of Kyiv.
He won the mayoral elections with nearly 60 per cent of the votes and was sworn in as mayor in June 2014.
This month Vitali and his brother Wladimir – who is also a former world heavyweight boxing champion – revealed that they were ‘ready to die’ for Ukraine.
He told CNN: ‘We’re not interested in how strong the Russian army is, we’re ready to fight. And we’re ready to die for our home country and for our families, because it’s our home. It’s our future and somebody wants to come to our home and steal our future from us.’
Vitali also applauded the ‘amazing’ and ‘huge patriotic movement’ from Ukrainians who had stayed to fight the Russians, with ‘old people, doctors and actors’ all taking up arms to create a makeshift army.
He added: ‘We stayed in front of one of the strongest armies in the world. The will to be independent is the main priority for us. And we’re defending our families, our city, our country and our future.
‘There is a huge patriotic movement right now. Old people, can you imagine? Doctors, actors, actors from the theatre, many professions that never had no expectation to fight, to keep weapons.
‘But right now they are coming to us, they’re ready to fight. It’s amazing.’
Asked if he would fight against the invaders, Vitali, 50, said: ‘I don’t have another choice. I have to do that. I will be fighting. I believe in Ukraine. I believe in my country and I believe in my people.’
Mayor of Kyiv since 2014, he continued: ‘One district from here, my little girl is going to school. It is the love, the love for my city, my home, my family, my neighbours, my daughter that has brought me here, that I took this initiative and am now taking part in this territorial defence.
‘I can’t stand still and I won’t. That’s why I signed up for the territorial defence of the country and the city.’
Former Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko began training in amateur boxing with the Brovary Olympic Reserve School before going on to be coached by Poland’s Gwardia Warszawa boxing club
Former Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko, who is the younger brother of Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, was born in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, in 1976.
During the 1980s he began training in amateur boxing with the Brovary Olympic Reserve School before going on to be coached by Poland’s Gwardia Warszawa boxing club.
In 1995 he won a gold medal at the military championships in Italy and went on to win the super heavyweight gold medal at the 1996 summer olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2017, Wladimir, who competed in 29 world title fights, announced he would be retiring from the sport.
Earlier this year he and his brother called for more support from allies amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The brothers thanked governments which had provided international help but said basic supplies like food and water were needed as well as more weapons.
In a joint interview on BBC News, Wladimir said: ‘It’s never enough. There’s huge demand because infrastructure is partially destroyed by the shelling that is happening all over the country in the different cities.
‘It’s absolutely not enough and we definitely need support and help – financial support, military equipment support, medical support.’
The Klitschko brothers also released a joint video message in Russian, Ukrainian and English calling on European neighbours to support Ukraine.
In the video, Wladimir said: ‘I’m calling to all international partners to observe this tragedy that is happening nowadays in Ukraine.
‘And this senseless war that is not going to have any winners, but losers. I just want to tell you we must stay united against this aggression, against Russian aggression.
‘Don’t let it continue happening in Ukraine, don’t let it happen in Europe and eventually in the world. United we are strong, support Ukraine, thank you.’
Ukrainian boxing hero Vasiliy Lomachenko has been boxing world champion in three different weight divisions
Lomachenko (left) also enlisted in the Ukrainian territorial army to fight against Russia
Ukrainian boxing hero Vasiliy Lomachenko has also returned home and enlisted in the territorial army in a bid to help defend his people from Russian soldiers.
The 34-year-old, who has been boxing world champion in three different weight divisions, was initially reported to have left for Greece in the wake of Russia’s invasion, but has now returned to join the battle.
Re-posting a message from local mayor Vitaly Hrazhdan, Lomachenko shared a photo on his Facebook page, dressed in military uniform.
The message read: ‘The Belgorod-Dniester Territorial Defense Battalion has been formed and armed. Boxer Vasyl Lomachenko is in the defense.’
According to reports, the boxing legend’s journey back to Ukraine from Greece was a long and convoluted one.
It is said he had to go first to Bucharest in Romania, before travelling across into Ukraine to get to his home city of Odessa.
Born in 1998, Lomachenko first began training in gymnastics before taking up the boxing gloves.
In 2007, he won silver at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago before going on to win gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
He went on to win his second consecutive gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Prior to his professional boxing career, Lomachenko also competed in the lightweight division of the World Series of Boxing (WSB).
Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk had been in talks with Anthony Joshua over a rematch after the Ukrainian stripped him of his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO world heavyweight titles in a stunning display last year but as a result of Russia’s invasion has returned to Kyiv
Oleksandr Usyk has enlisted with the Kyiv Territorial Defence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk enlisted with the Kyiv Territorial Defence following Russia’s invasion.
Usyk had been in talks with Anthony Joshua over a rematch after the Ukrainian stripped him of his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO world heavyweight titles in a stunning display last year.
However, as a result of Russia’s devastating invasion of his homeland, Usyk has returned to Kyiv to take up arms and defend his country.
Following the sudden change in circumstances for Usyk said he doesn’t know what his future holds in the sport.
‘I really don’t know when I’m going to be stepping back in the ring,’ Usyk told CNN. ‘My country and my honor are more important to me than a championship belt.’
Following Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine, Usyk quickly faced accusations he had travelled to the UK to avoid the fighting, which he quickly refuted by flying to Warsaw, Poland (due to the Ukrainian airports being bombed by Russian missiles) before driving almost 500 miles back home and over the border to Kyiv.
Hours later, Usyk was pictured on his Instagram page toting a large machine gun before announcing that he has joined the Kyiv Territorial Defence in a heroic bid to protect his native Ukraine.
‘Dear Ukraine and dear Ukrainians, some wrote about me running away. Not true, I had a work trip and now I’m back. I’m home,’ he said.
‘Friends, we need to unite together and overcome this, because we are faced with exceptional difficulties.
‘I’m very overcome with emotions and I’m very concerned for my country and for our people. Friends we must stop this war and we must do it together.’
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