Former WBO and WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko Credit: twnews.ch

Ukraine, the second largest Eastern European country that borders the east and northeast areas of Russia, roughly 4,800 miles away from New York City, is now over a week into defending itself from an invasion by Russian military forces. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is solely behind the death and destruction taking place in a country with a thriving sports culture.

With 40 miles of Russian tanks currently rolling threw Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and bombs creating devastating destruction, it’s highly unlikely that Ukrainian sports fans are concerned about how many points their countryman, Toronto Raptors forward and University of Kansas alumnus Svi Mykhailiuk, dropped on the Brooklyn Nets Monday and Tuesday nights in the teams back-to-back games.

Prior to the start of last Thursday’s game between the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets, players from both teams locked arms and held a moment of silence in solidarity for Ukraine and its native son Alex Len, a 28-year-old Ukrainian-born center for the Kings. Len played college basketball for the University of Maryland and was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns.

Vitali Klitschko, 51, the former WBC and WBO heavyweight boxing champion, is the mayor of Kyiv and the head of the Kyiv City State Administration. He’s held both offices since June of 2014, and has been active in Ukrainian politics since 2005. He retired from boxing in December 2013.

“I am Ukrainian, and I am a fighter,” Klitschko declared in an interview on Monday conducted at Kyiv’s town hall. “Our strongest force is the will and desire to live in a free country, and we have chosen the direction we want to go,” the mayor stated, adamant and defiant in his defense of his homeland.

“We want to make sure that our values are going to be implemented rightly into our society, and no one else is going to decide for us how we should live.”

Vitali’s brother, Wladimir, who will turn 46 later this month, is also a former heavyweight champion of WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO and is similarly politically active.

FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, and UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, known here as soccer, have issued a joint statement announcing the suspension of Russia’s teams from their organizations.

“FIFA and UEFA have today decided together that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice.”

The announcement was made on Monday by the Bureau of the FIFA Council and the Executive Committee of UEFA, the highest decision-making bodies of both organizations.

The International Olympic Committee’s executive board recommended that sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from competing in events following Russia’s invasion. Belarus has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The IOC executive board stated the action was taken “in order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.”

The National Hockey League (NHL), the largest American sports League with foreign players, issued a statement that read it “condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” and urges a peaceful and quick resolution.

“Effective immediately, we are suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia,” the declaration continued, “and we are pausing our Russian language social and digital media sites. In addition, we are discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL.”

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