Whether it’s a good idea remains to be seen. It is more than brave. Many (former) top athletes join the Ukrainian army following the Klitschko brothers. In addition to a football coach, eight others let their patriotism reign supreme, while the Premier League footballers prefer to let their voices speak. Two football players and a biathlete have already been killed.
9 former top athletes fight for Ukraine
Karateka Stanislav Horuna
Good for bronze in karate at the most recent Olympic Games in Tokyo. Just on the day, he turned 33 on Tuesday, he announced his struggle on social media and asked his followers not for gifts, but for financial support for the Ukrainian army.
“Hello friends, today, March 1st, is my birthday. If you want to give me something as a present, better spend that money on a donation to the Ukrainian army. And mention ‘Ukraine’ in your social media posts. Thank you. Support Ukraine!”
To get the latest stories, install our app here.
Horuna wrote on Instagram in military attire, the rifle at the ready. In a video posted to Instagram Stories, Horuna shows off a badly damaged Russian tank, with the message: “We fight back… Every intruder will be killed.”
Oleksandr Usyk, heavyweight titleholder in boxing
His goal at the start of this year: defend his world heavyweight title when he looks Briton Anthony Joshua in the eye in a rematch. A few months later, that goal already looks different for Oleksandr Usyk.
As soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, he went to his homeland to protect his family. “I defend my wife, my children, my loved ones and my home,” Osyk said in an interview with CNN from his residence near Kyiv.
“No, I don’t want to shoot or kill.” But if Russia attacks, Usyk says he will take up arms. “Then I have no other choice.” On his social media, he said like this: “I was working out, but I’m back. I am home. Friends, we must unite because it is a difficult time right now. I am very emotional and worried about my country and our people.
Vasiliy Lomachenko, ex-world lightweight boxing champion
Like Klitschkos and Uysk, Vasiliy Lomachenko (34) also held a world title in boxing. He was in the lightweights, just like he won gold twice in the Olympics. He returned to his country to defend his home town of Belgorod-Dnestrovsky, near Odesa. He also posted a photo of himself in military uniform with a rifle around his shoulder on his Facebook page.
His last fight took place in November last year, a unanimous decision win against Ghanaian Richard Commey. Recent reports say he could land another lightweight title match against Australian George Kambosos Junior, but Lomachenko no doubt has other priorities now.
Sergiy Stakhovsky, retired from tennis after Australian Open
The children of Sergiy Stakhovsky think that their father is just at a tennis tournament. They are too young to understand what war is, let alone why anyone would risk their life fighting for their native land.
Stakhovsky (36) retired as a professional tennis player after the Australian Open last January. A win against Federer at Wimbledon in 2013 was his most glorious. But he could not enjoy his retirement for long. With Ukraine partly in ruins and his hometown of Kyiv surrounded, he cannot stand by and has joined the troops.
He has no military experience, but does have gun experience, Stakhovsky said. “I hope I don’t have to use it, but if I have to, I will.” His wife did not speak to him for a while after his decision.
Andrey Medvedev, former Roland Garros finalist
Stakhovsky is not the only Ukrainian ex-tennis player heading to the front. Stakhovsky posted a photo from Kyiv next to the former Ukrainian number four in the world, Andrey Medvedev. Medvedev, born in the capital, reached the final of Roland Garros in 1999, beating the legendary Andre Agassi very easily.
To get the latest stories, install our app here.
That same year, he also played the final of the French Open against the equally legendary Pete Sampras. Twenty years later, Medvedev protects his city from the Russian invasion. Stakhovsky was happy to see him and shared a photo of him posing with his fellow Ukrainian tennis buddy: “World tennis legend Andrey Medvedev remains in Kyiv, ready to face the enemy. We are happy to see him by our side. Patriot of Ukraine.”
Alexandr Dolgopolov, quarterfinalist at the Australian Open
The former professional tennis players are now even three. After Stakhovsky and Medvedev, Alexandr Dolgopolov also shows on his social media the weapons he is taking up against the Russian enemy. Dolgopolov is only 33, but his tennis career was threatened by a lingering wrist injury. He retired last year. His best ever result was a quarterfinal at the 2011 Australian Open.
Biathlete Dmytro Pidruchnyi and skeletonist Vladyslav Heraskevych
They competed at the Beijing Olympics a few weeks ago. Pidruchnyi was crowned world champion in the pursuit in 2019. He says he will fight for his hometown of Ternopil, in western Ukraine. The two already saw the shower in Beijing. “No war in Ukraine,” Heraskevych had written on a blue-yellow piece of paper, which he showed after one of his descents. The ‘political statement’ actually received approval from the IOC. Now the 23-year-old student is wearing a uniform and a machine gun.
Yuriy Vernydub, football coach FC Sheriff
As football coach Yuriy Vernydub (56) of FC Sheriff Tiraspol also registered. In September, his team provided an absolute Champions League stunt by beating Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. “The people close to me tried to stop me; my wife, my children and grandchildren. But I stood firm and thanked my wife for her support. She knows my character. If I make a decision, I’ll stick with it,” he told the BBC in a lengthy interview.
“My children, their wives and my grandchildren may go to Moldova, but my wife and I will stay here,” Vernydub continues. “I am not far from the conflict at the moment. The heaviest fighting takes place about 120 kilometers from here. But I’ve made up my mind, it’s okay. I’m not afraid.” In his younger years, the trainer fulfilled all his military service, which allowed him to handle weapons.
Vernydub claims to be part of a ‘crazy collective’. “It’s special to be part of such a team with different characters, but everyone is united, friendly and motivated to the core. We share everything.” He is not allowed to reveal what his role in the army is. He is ready to fight. “I cannot understand Putin and his environment. They called us fascists, Nazis… I can’t even find words to describe what they do. They attack civilian homes, but say they are only restricting infrastructure. They lie.”
“When we beat Real Madrid, I couldn’t imagine this situation. At the beginning of February, the doubts arose. The news on this subject became more intense. Then I started to worry,” Vernydub continues. “The players kept asking why I was so sad. I said something was about to happen. They kept saying it wasn’t, but I just felt it. But I have no doubt that Ukraine will win this war.”
Premier League footballers Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) and Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham) have also already indicated that they want to lend their support. “We ask the football world to resist Russian propaganda and tell the truth about the war in Ukraine,” the two said in a video, along with nine other top players. The football players have already collected half a million euros that goes directly to the army, the Ukrainian football league said. They also targeted Artem Dzyuba, the Russian striker whose sex video leaked on the internet in 2020. Dzyuba’s sharp reaction was not forthcoming.
Two football players from that country have already died in the war in Ukraine, players’ union FIFPro reports. According to various media, 21-year-old Vitalii Sapylo, youth player of El Karpaty Lviv, had entered the army as a tank commander to defend his country. And Yevhen Malyshev, a 19-year-old biathlete who belonged to the national youth teams between 2018 and 2020, also lost his life. To get the latest stories, install our app here.