Ukrainian boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Vasily Lomachenko are friends since childhood. They grew up dreaming of fighting their way to fame and glory, and together they conquered the world with their fists.
Between them, 35-year-old Usyk and 34-year-old Lomachenko have won three Olympic gold medals and have since established themselves among the world’s elite boxers.
But now they face an entirely different battle – an existential battle – for the future of their country. where Russia invaded Ukraine On February 24, Usyk and Lomachenko traveled to Ukraine, took up arms and joined the territorial defense battalion.
Speak via video link from vault in KyivUsik told CNN exclusively that it’s not just invading forces he needs to look out for, but thieves as well. He says he is ready to die if necessary.
“If they want to commit suicide with my life or the lives of my loved ones, I will have to,” he said. “But I don’t want to. I don’t want to shoot, I don’t want to kill anyone, but if they were to kill me, I would have no other choice.”
Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, helped coordinate and translate the interview for Usyk, who does not speak English. Despite the terrifying situation many Ukrainians now find themselves in, Usyk says he is not afraid.
He explained, “It may sound sentimental, but my soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor belong to my country and my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear. There is just confusion – how can this be in the 21st century?”
He is not in Ukraine for boxing at the moment, but the noble art is still useful at the moment. He said, “It has helped me be calm and prepared mentally, and it helps me help others who are experiencing panic and stress.”
The two men were out of the country when Russia invaded; Usik was in London, to film an upcoming video game sequence.
He intended to return home only hours after hostilities began, but with the airports closed, he instead traveled to Warsaw in Poland and drove nearly 500 miles home and across the border to Kyiv.
Lomachenko was visiting a monastery in Greece and returned home the next day. Instead of traveling directly to his hometown of Odessa, he flew to Bucharest in Romania, then drove for nine hours to the port and took a ferry to Ukraine.
Their manager told CNN he didn’t know they were considering taking up arms until they were actually registered with the Defense Battalion. The former world boxing champion, Vitaly – who is also the mayor of Kyiv – and Vladimir Klitschko, also have They took up arms in defense of their nation.
Lomachenko was scheduled to speak to CNN at the same time as Usyk, but was not responding to calls from his manager at the time. Early Wednesday morning local time, Klimas confirmed to CNN that Lomachenko was safe and sound.
He and Osik remain close: they are godparents to each other’s children and celebrate family birthdays together. Six days into the war, Usyk knows there is no longer a safe place in Ukraine.
“The bombing around us is insane,” Usik said. “They just bombed the city of Mariupol, and one of my friends received a missile on its roof. [The Russians] They don’t play.”
As the fighting rages on, so does debate over whether Russian athletes should be punished on the behavior of their country. Usyk chose not to think straight, pointing out that there were innocent people on both sides of the conflict.
The Russians don’t really know what exactly is going on here. They don’t see what’s going on. They are the victims of their boss [Vladimir Putin]. ”
Usyk just became the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO World Heavyweight Champion. In September, Anthony defeated Joshua in London in a spectacular boxing show to earn the belts. His manager says talks about the rematch this summer are at an advanced stage.
Lomachenko was a former lightweight world champion in three different weight classes and was planning to battle George Camposos in Australia in June.
But it is understood that boxing is the last thing on their mind.
“I don’t really know when I’m going to be back in the ring,” Usic said, looking exhausted and emotional in his CNN interview. “My country and my honor are more important to me than the championship belt.”
Usyk has three children, and during the interview, the voices of young people could be heard playing behind him in the basement.
He says family, friends and neighbors have been sheltering together. When there is an air raid alert, we hide. Of course, it’s fun when there are so many of us here – we’re having fun. But we force ourselves to have fun.” They try to keep the children’s mood light.
But in a separate conversation with CNN, Usyk Klimas’ manager emphasized the seriousness of the situation, saying: “They are in great danger. When the bullets start flying, the bullet doesn’t care if you’re the world champion. The bullet just goes through.”
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