Heavyweight boxing world champion Oleksandr Usyk said he didn’t want to leave Ukraine amid the ongoing war but was urged by injured Ukrainian soldiers to “fight for the country” in his rematch against Anthony Joshua.
Usyk returned to Ukraine, took up arms and joined a territorial defense battalion in Kyiv following Russia’s invasion of his homeland and spent weeks helping out in the war efforts.
Back in March, the Ukrainian sports minister said Usyk would be granted permission to return to training in the lead up to his fight with Joshua, but still the 35-year-old was reluctant.
“I really didn’t want to leave our country, I didn’t want to leave our city,” Usyk told reporters, per Reuters. “I went to the hospital where soldiers were wounded and getting rehabilitation from the war.
“They were asking me to go, to fight, to fight for the country, fight for your pride and if you’re going to go there, you’re even going to help more for our country.
“I know a lot of my close people, friends, close friends, are right now in the front line and fighting. What I’m doing right now, I’m just supporting them, and with this fight, I wanted to bring them some kind of joy in between what they do.”
Usyk stunned the world last September when he completely outfought and outclassed Joshua in his own back yard to take the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts. On Wednesday, the rematch was confirmed for August 20 in Saudi Arabia.
Nothing could prepare Usyk for what he would face in the coming months and he says he was worried he wouldn’t make it back.
“Every day, I was praying and I was asking God: ‘Please God, don’t let anybody to try to kill me,’” Usyk said. “‘Please don’t let anybody to shoot me. And please don’t let me to shoot anybody, any other person.’”
Usyk spoke to CNN back in March via a video link from a basement in Kyiv and said that it wasn’t just invading forces he needed to look out for, but looters as well. He said that he was prepared to take a life, if necessary.
“If they will want to take my life, or the lives of my close ones, I will have to do it,” he said. “But I don’t want that. I don’t want to shoot, I don’t want to kill anybody, but if they will be killing me, I will have no choice.”
Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, helped coordinate the interview and translated for Usyk, who doesn’t speak English. Despite the terrifying situation that many Ukrainians now find themselves in, Usyk said that he wasn’t afraid.
“Maybe, it’ll sound sentimental,” he explained, “but my soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor 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?”