Fighting heart: Ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko symbol of Kyiv’s resolve as city’s mayor

KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv’s mayor knows a thing or two about fighting.

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Vitali Klitschko is a former heavyweight boxing champion and a Hall of Famer. He knows that the city he has led since 2014 is in a real life-and-death struggle as Russian troops attempt to take Ukraine’s capital.

After a night of attacks on the capital, Klitschko, 50, told The Associated Press on Sunday that his city is “encircled,” meaning that evacuating the city would be almost impossible if Russian troops break through the stubborn Ukrainian defenses.

“We can’t do that, because all ways are blocked,” Klitschko said after hesitating for a few seconds. “Right now we are encircled.”

A spokesperson for the mayor later told the Kyiv Independent that Klitschko misspoke earlier Sunday, and that information about Russian troops encircling the city is “a lie and a manipulation.”

The mayor confirmed to the AP that nine civilians in Kyiv had been killed so far, including one child.

Klitschko became mayor in 2014 after compiling a 41-2 record in the ring from 1996 to 2012, ESPN reported. He also became head of the Kyiv City State Administration. During 2014, he became a leading figure in the protests against closer ties with Russia.

Now, Klitschko is again defending his country, watching with pride as citizens of Kyiv continue to counterpunch against the stronger Russian forces.

“Ï just talked to the president (Volodymyr Zelenskyy). Everybody is not feeling so well,” Klitschko told the AP. “We show our character, our knowledge, our values.”

Klitschko said there is an alarming lack of food, and services to supply basic needs for the city’s population are dwindling fast.

“We are at the border of a humanitarian catastrophe,” he told the AP. “Right now, we have electricity, right now we have water and heating in our houses. But the infrastructure is destroyed to deliver the food and medication.”

But Klitschko, who won 195 out of 210 amateur bouts before turning pro and winning his first 27 professional matches, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2018. He is not ready to throw in the towel where his city and country are concerned.

“That’s why the message for everyone is: Support Ukraine together,” Klitschko told the AP. “We are strong. Every Ukrainian is proud to be independent, proud to be Ukrainian, and we are proud to have our own country.”