The Most Famous Ukrainian Athletes That Have Joined The Fight Against Russia

National pride is a big part of sports. It's one of the reasons why athletes train for years to earn the honor of representing their country on the international stage at world championships and Olympic Games. Sometimes off-the-field issues at home cause an athlete's focus to shift toward how they can help their fellow citizens.

During World War II, lots of athletes put aside their respective sports to hop into the conflicts raging in Europe and the Pacific. According to The Sportster, some of those athletes included Major League Baseball players like Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio, golfer and founding member of the LPGA Patty Berg, and boxer Joe Louis, who all served in the United States armed forces. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Turk Broda served in the Canadian military.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Ukrainian athletes from all over the sporting landscape pitched in different ways to defend their country from Russian invaders.

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko is a former heavyweight boxing champion, and according to The Ukrainian Weekly, he's also the first Ukrainian boxer to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also holds a Ph.D. in sports science, which earned him the nickname Dr. Ironfist (via Britannica). Since 2014, Klitschko has served as the mayor of Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv. When the 2022 invasion began, Klitschko was quick to announce his plans to protect his city and his country.

​​"Now, the Russian president [Vladimir Putin] is using war rhetoric ... he makes it clear that he wants to destroy the Ukrainian state and the sovereignty of its people," he wrote on social media, according to ESPN. "Words are followed by missiles and tanks. Destruction and death come upon us. ... We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy."

Just before being elected as Kyiv's mayor, Klitschko was vocal about his support for protests against close ties with Russia. However, his political activities go back even further than that. He was involved in Ukraine's Orange Revolution, according to Britannica, which put President Viktor Yushchenko in power.

Wladimir Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko's younger brother, Wladimir Klitschko, took his brother's place at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta after the older Klitschko was caught using steroids. Wladimir made the most of the opportunity and won a super heavyweight gold medal.

Like his older brother, Wladimir was also a champion boxer, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and also has a Ph.D. in sports science, with a nickname of his own: Dr. Steelhammer (per Britannica).

As the Russian military was preparing for an invasion, Klitschko enlisted in Ukraine's reserve army, according to ESPN. "People say this is the biggest fight of my life, and I agree — it's so sad to realize how terrifying the war is," he said (via Daily Mail). "The will to be independent is the main priority for us. And we're defending our families, our city, our country, and our future."

Klitschko's contributions to the war effort extend beyond serving. According to CoinDesk, Klitschko released a series of NFTs to raise money that will be donated to the Ukrainian Red Cross and UNICEF.

Yevhen Malyshev

Just like the entire situation in Ukraine, the story of biathlete Yevhen Malyshev is a tragic one. According to the New York Post, Malyshev competed in the biathlon for Ukraine's national team and the Kharkiv junior team.

Malyshev's athletic career came to an end in 2020, and as the conflict in his home country ramped up, he joined the fight. Sadly, Malyshev was killed in combat during the invasion.

The International Biathlon Union tweeted their condolences in a statement following Malyshev's death. "Above all, the IBU expresses its deepest condolences on the loss of former Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev (19), who died this week serving in the Ukrainian military," it said. "The Executive Board once again condemns the Russian attacks on Ukraine and the support provided by Belarus."

Global Athlete, an organization that seeks to empower athletes, also released a statement the day after Malyshev's death. "Yesterday, 19-year-old Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev was killed in combat in Ukraine, defending his country against Russia's attack. How many more lives need to be lost before sport implements meaningful sanctions?"

Lesya Vorotnyk and Oleksiy Potiomkin

Lesya Vorotnyk and Oleksiy Potiomkin are both dancers at Kyiv's National Opera (pictured above), who jumped into action when their homeland fell under attack. Vorotnyk is a principal dancer at the National Opera and a picture of her holding a Kalashnikov rifle and wearing military fatigues made the rounds on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Potiomkin, a dancer for the opera company, has also joined the fight. According to The Denver Channel, a tweet with a pair of photos of him, one in which he's performing on stage, while in the other he's bundled up in camouflage and holding a rifle. The person who posted it, Ukrainian-American writer Natalia Antonova, said about the photos, "The dude on the left is Oleksiy Potyomkin. The dude on the right is also Oleksiy Potyomkin. The ballet dancer has joined up, like many people from all walks of life in Ukraine." Potyomkin has been posting updates on his Instagram account during the conflict.

Sergiy Stakhovsky

Sergiy Stakhovsky is a professional tennis player who reached his highest ranking — No. 31 in the world — in 2010, per the ATP Tour, but he's likely best known for defeating Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013 which snapped Federer's record streak of 36 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals appearances.

According to Politico, when fighting broke out in his home country in 2022, Stakhovsky left his family in Hungary and joined Ukraine's territorial army. "I kissed the kids goodbye. My wife knew I'd made a decision that she's not gonna like and she was upset. The little one, who is a daddy's boy asked where I was going and I told him I'm just going to the garage," he told Sky News.

Stakhovsky also told Sky News that he had also spoken with Russian tennis players. "I've talked to almost all of them and none of them wants the war, none of them supports [Russia President Vladimir] Putin," he said. "I know all the Russian players and I've spoken to two and I know the general opinion as well because we've known each other for years. It's very hard for them."