From the safety of a village in the Ukrainian countryside, World Boxing Council Ukraine President Mykola Kovalchuk is plotting his return to a Kyiv home surrounded by Russian troops.
“I hope to set up my family in a safe place, and then I’m gonna join our guys, our forces, to defend our country,” he said, cautious not to wake his sleeping elderly parents, wife, daughter sick with pneumonia, or three other children.
Kovalchuk, the president of the Ukrainian division of the World Boxing Council since it opened an office in Kyiv late last year, woke up at 4:30 a.m. to explosions in his hometown of Kyiv as Russian troops began their initial attack on Ukraine. “Some of my friends abroad, they offered me to leave the country, but the decision of my family is 100% to stay here to fight and to defend our country — not to leave our countrymen,” he said. “All I want is to go back, to take a weapon, and to do everything to defend my country.”
Kovalchuk retired from the Air Force as an officer in 2004, but now he’s prepared to stand alongside at least a dozen world-class Ukrainian boxers on the battlefield. “Russia wanted to win this bout in the first round by knockout. But they do not realize that we are professional warriors. And they do not know about our motivation. They do not know about our internal power. They know nothing about our spirit,” he said. “I will repeat again one more time: we are a very peaceful country. But when somebody wants to take ours, wants to attack us, wants to kill us — they will be destroyed. That's it. We will never let anyone take our homeland. We love it too much.”
Kovalchuk has represented Oleksandr Usyk as a lawyer and knows Vasiliy Lomachenko – both of whom now have taken up arms in their hometowns as part of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense. “All the boxers are united right now. All of them. All of them. I am talking with Viktor Postol, he just had a fight not two days ago in the United States — he is coming back to Ukraine to get weapons and to fight,” he said. “Many many people, standing together, fighting together, all the boxing community — [even] the boxing amateurs, fighting and defending our country.”
According to Kovalchuk, Ukraine’s boxers have rallied behind World Champion boxers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko – figuratively and literally – as both are leading on the battlefield and the latter serves as the mayor of the country’s largest city, Kyiv. “They are very rich people — they could leave their country and live a great life somewhere like Miami, California, wherever. But they stay and they fight — it means something. It’s the sign of a great patriotism. It’s a sign of love to the Ukrainian people. And love to the homeland, to Ukraine, to our land. It means everything for us. It motivates us — it shows us how we should act. They are examples to us.”
Kovalchuk says they should also be examples to the world of boxing outside of Ukraine. “I hope everybody will support us — and their colleague, eternal WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, and the guy who held three belts for ten years almost ten years, Wladimir Klitschko…now they are with weapons staying to the very end, they are eager to stay to the death defending their homeland. It should be a great example in history, and it should be a great example for the boxers and all the sportsmen on how they need to act. Not only to be brave and fight for the money, but to fight for your country.”
As Ukrainians like the Klitschko brothers, Usyk, Lomachenko, and Kovalchuk take up arms, the latter wants the world to know that it’s not only their battle to fight.
“To be honest with you, we need not only your words. When it is war, words are good, but we need actions. We need real help. And I will repeat one more time, it is not only our problem. It is a problem of the world. And now we are fighting for the whole world…Condolences?” Kovalchuk laughed. “To be concerned for us means nothing. You can be concerned for yourself…we are fighting for the peace of the whole world.”
Moments after hearing from a friend under siege back in Kyiv worried about his family, Kovalchuk seemed more determined than ever. “Our hope is not a hope — it is a plan,” he said confidently. “We will send back all of our enemies — alive or dead. We will develop our country, and live in peace, and we will develop our sports — sportsmanship — our sportsman — we will still be the champions.”
To Kovalchuk, the spirit that has helped Ukrainians dominate in the ring is now carried on in the battlefield. “We know how to fight, it’s in our genes. We never give up, we never quit, and we will never leave our country. We will defend it to the very last drop of our blood. Guarantee.”
Kovalchuk hopes for peace, but he’s ready for war.
“We are a peaceful country, a peaceful nation. But when somebody tries to attack us, when somebody tries to take our homes, when somebody tries to kill our families — we will destroy them. We will destroy the enemy, 100% guaranteed. And they feel it right now,” he said. “Putin himself is in shock, because he thought that in three or four hours they will raid Kyiv, and take Kyiv, and they will change our government, our president – blah blah blah. They are clowns…I assure you that this is the beginning of their end. And the beginning of a new greater and stronger country of Ukraine.”
Kovalchuk said that he is “talking all the time with Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the WBC, and he supports us in all the ways that he can. He talked with the presidents of the WBO, WBA, IBF, and as you know they are united.”
According to Kovalchuk, the Ukrainian people have united as well.
“Many people when Volodymyr Zelensky became President, they were saying oh a clown..a comic became president — Ha, Ha, Ha,” he deadpanned. “This clown has balls bigger than anyone else in the world.”