Gloves off

Long before fighting Russians, Kyiv’s mayor was “Dr. Knockout” in the pro-boxing ring

As Russians attack Kyiv with missiles and bombs, Vitali Klitschko, the 50-year-old mayor of Ukraine’s capital city, has emerged as an icon of Ukrainian resistance, bravely joining his city’s citizens to fight off the invaders.

But long before he fought the Russians, Klitschko fought as a heavyweight boxing champion, a detail that underscores his warrior spirit.

Klitschko, who stands at 6-foot 7-inches, fought as a pro-boxer from 1996 to 2013, ending with an astounding record of 45 wins and only 2 losses (both of which happened in response to injuries sustained during his matches). His overall record includes 41 knockouts, 15 defeated opponents in world heavyweight title fights and 12 successful title defenses — it’s no wonder he earned the nickname “Dr. Knockout.”

It’s all the more remarkable that he began his political career 2005, when he was still fighting ring matches. He has since served as a presidential advisor, a Kyiv City Council member and the parliamentary party leader of his country’s pro-democratic anti-corruption party. Even before becoming Kyiv mayor in 2014, he has regularly spoken out against his country’s human rights abuses and in favor of Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO (two things Russia absolutely opposes).

When Russians invaded his country in February 2022, Klitschko said he had no choice but to fight. He has since been seen surveying his city in military gear, aiding those who have been harmed or made homeless by Russia’s escalating attacks on the city.

Related: How Russia’s war on Ukraine is a war on LGBTQ people

“If my home country needs my life, I’m ready to give my life for my country, my children, for the future of my family,” he told Yahoo News.

But he said that he himself cannot bring himself to hate Russians, even with the ongoing attack.

“I can’t hate Russians,” he told New York magazine in late March. “My mother’s Russian. I can’t hate my mom. Half of my body is Russian blood. My first language is Russian. And a lot of people here in Ukraine are Russians, fighting for Ukraine.”

He also recently called “bullsh*t” on Russian President Vladimir Putin for claiming that Russian forces have only hit military targets. Numerous human rights organizations and the U.S. government have said accused Russia of war crimes for attacking apartment buildings, hospitals and other non-military targets.

More recently, Klitschko has joined his president’s call for more foreign and humanitarian support amid Russia’s escalating attacks. He also said he feels confident that Ukrainians will never stop fighting against the Russian invaders.

“The Russian soldier is fighting in Ukraine for money,” Klitschko told the aforementioned publication. “The Ukrainian soldier is fighting to defend our homeland. Weapons are important, but the spirit of warriors is more important.”

Klitschko is fluent in English, Russian, Ukrainian and German. His brother Wladimir was also a championship boxer who won Olympic gold for Ukraine in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games. Their mother made them promise never to fight each other in the ring.