By Marcus Parekh
In an exclusive interview, the boxer turned politician urged western allies to meet Russian aggression with strength of their own.
Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxer turned mayor of Kyiv, has described Vladimir Putin as a “gangrene” affecting Europe as he has begun training with Ukraine’s military reservists in anticipation of a potential conflict.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Klitschko said he recently took part in Kyiv’s Territorial Defenсe training exercises in anticipation of a Russian invasionthat included military simulations and tactical training, movement drills and the operational planning issues in case of invasion.
“Many of us served in the army and those skills had to be restored. I think that such training is essential for top and middle-level oLcials of a country that has been at war for almost eight years,” he said.
The 50-year-old was elected as Mayor of Kyiv in February 2014, in the midst of Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. In a previous career, he was a world heavyweight boxing champion, winning 45 of his 47 professional Ughts and earning the nickname ‘Dr IronUst’ for his formidable, knockout punching power.
Combining brains with his brawn, the 6 foot 7 heavyweight was also the Urst professional boxer to earn a PhD, graduating from the Kyiv University of Physical Science and Sport in 2000 with a doctorate in Sport Science.
Following his boxing career, Mr Klitschko founded the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) party, which he used as a platform to become Mayor of Kyiv, a position he has been re-elected to twice more.
He has so far proved an e>ective political operator, overseeing the construction of hundreds of kilometres of roads, shuttering illegal kiosks that littered the capital’s streets and becoming one of the faces for the push for greater European integration.
His tenure has not been criticism free, however, particularly by those who say his coronavirus restrictions infringed on “individual liberties”. Less than 60 per cent of Kyiv’s residents have received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine despite a concerted push by his administration.
He believes that his background as a celebrity athlete will serve him well should conflict arise.
“I think it is more about character traits that all professional athletes share. Self-discipline, meticulousness, persistence and a strong sense of focus are key principles that help you succeed, no matter what you are doing,” he told the Telegraph.
“As for my celebrity status…My connections are very helpful and give me a big advantage. Because Ukraine cannot overcome the tough challenges it faces without friends and reliable partners.”
The Territorial Defence Forces of Ukraine are the nation’s military reservists. Divided into 25 units, the 100,000 reservists and civilian volunteers are assigned to each of Ukraine’s oblasts, including the capital Kyiv.
While not fully trained guerilla Ughters, during war time the reservists are assigned key roles including maintaining law and order and protecting key infrastructure sites.
Kyiv itself is undergoing preparations for invasion, with the City Council designating its basement as a bomb shelter alongside 4,928 other underground spaces including subway stations and coffee shop basements.
Members of the organisation are required to purchase all their own equipment, including body armour, ballistic helmets, uniforms, weapons, ammunition, and communications gear. Most of the guns they own are private hunting weapons acquired by individual reservists.
Thousands of Ukrainians have signed short-term contracts with the organisation. They live their normal daily lives, but should war be declared, they will be required to defend their nation.
Russia has spent much of the last several months amassing tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, though recently pulled some of those forces back as it prepares for talks with the United States.
Russia has demanded a series of concessions from Nato, including legally binding guarantees from the West that Nato will bar Ukraine or any other foreigner Soviet state in eastern Europe from joining the alliance and will not deploy any weapons or troops near Russia’s border.
However, Mr Klitschko has urged the West not to bow under Russian aggression, calling for tough retaliatory measures to get Mr Putin to back down as well as issuing a stark warning to the Russian president.
“We will not let you pull us back into the Soviet empire that we have rejected forever. Ukraine has chosen the European path and wants to establish itself as a rightful member of the European family – historically, geographically and mentally.”
“A response should be tough and unwavering and include not only cutting Russia off the global financial markets, suspending the certification process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and imposing personal sanctions against Russia’s top officials but also a package of increased military aid with the most advanced weapons,” he said.
“Those measures should have been in place much earlier, before a forthcoming Russian invasion.”
Writing in the German newspaper Bild last month, he said he is prepared to join the “Ught for my mother country” and training with Ukraine’s military reservists in preparation for any conCict.
But Ukraine cannot win alone. It is only through partnerships and alliances that Mr Klitchsko believes Russian aggression can be pushed back. The Kyiv mayor was full of praise for Boris Johnson, who has previously said that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “catastrophic for the world”.
“I would thank Boris for all the support that Great Britain gives Ukraine,” Mr Klitschko said. “Also, I would assure him that the help of our partners with whom we share the democratic values is of crucial importance for us.”