As life slowly returns to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the wake of Russian forces retreating, boxing gyms have become outlets to ease the stress of war.
“With the curfew in the city and restrictions on movement, we needed some place to blow off steam and discharge emotional tension,” Oleksandr, a 38-year-old employee of the International Red Cross in Kyiv told AFP.
Among the gyms that have reopened in recent weeks is the All Stars Boxing Club, a local gym in a suburb of Kyiv that has resumed classes for beginners and intermediate students alike. Enthusiasts can be seen performing various tasks, including sparring, shadowboxing and jumping rope.
Many boxers at the gym claim that the sport helped distract and alleviate the anxiety and stress prevalent with life during wartime.
“One of the advantages of boxing is that it keeps your mind clear,” said Oleksandr. “All thoughts go away, it helps to reboot.”
There are currently a handful of notable boxers who traded in their gloves for guns at the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, including renowned boxer Vasily Lomachenko and Bellator welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov. Oleksandr Usyk recently left the Ukrainian army to prepare for his upcoming rematch against Anthony Joshua.
Former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko also serves as mayor of Kyiv.
There have also been several Ukrainian combat sports athletes who have perished while staving off Russian occupation. Among them was Ukrainian two-time amateur boxing champion Oleg Prudky, who was one of four officers killed in an attack last week.
Russia launched its war on Ukraine on February 24, resulting in a humanitarian and refugee crisis that saw more than 5.7 million fleeing to neighbouring countries. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 2,899 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of April 28, 2022. However, OHCHR specified that the real numbers could be higher.
Beyond the death toll, evidence has arisen showing the extent of Russia’s war crimes during its occupation of towns such as Bucha, which included mass graves, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. Photo evidence also showed corpses of civilians lined up with their hands bound behind their backs and shot at point-blank range.
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