When Russia first launched its brutal war in Ukraine in February 2022, footage of a Ukrainian combat sports athlete being tortured began to circulate on Telegram. 

The footage appeared to show former MMA fighter Maxim Ryndovskiy being abused by a group of unknown assailants. One of the videos showed the victim seated on a chair with a pool of blood at his feet, while a second one showed him with his hands tied behind his back. In both, the victim has a shirt duct-taped to his head, making it difficult to confirm his identity.

According to the Telegram channel that broke the story, Ryndovskiy was being tortured by Ukrainian “patriots” for associating with Akhmat MMA, the infamous fight club belonging to Ramzan Kadyrov, the dictator at the helm of the North Caucasus enclave of Chechnya. 

Ryndovskiy has not been seen in public since the harrowing video was published. Several unconfirmed reports suggest he was murdered by the assailants. 

Bloody Elbow has repeatedly attempted to contact Ryndovskiy, but has not received a response. 

Though Rynodovskiy’s torture was among the first examples of the role that combat sports has played in the ongoing war, it proved to be far from the last. 

Combat Sports and the Russian Invasion

In the 14 months since Russia launched its invasion, numerous athletes were forced to put their professional careers on hold to take part in the conflict. 

Oleksandr Usyk, the Ukrainian Olympic medalist and heavyweight champion, joined the Kyiv Territorial Defense while fellow world champion and Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko gave up a title shot to take up arms for Ukraine. Bellator MMA champion Yaroslav Amosov also withdrew from a scheduled title defence to join a territorial battalion. All three have since returned to their professional careers. 

Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion once known as Dr. Ironfist, has served as mayor of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv since 2014 and is now one of the country’s most recognizable symbols of resistance to Russian rule. 

However, while a handful of Ukraine’s most prominent fighters were allowed to leave the war, countless other athletes weren’t afforded the same privilege. Many paid with their lives, as more than 250 Ukrainian athletes have perished since the war began. Several were combat sports athletes. 

In March 2022, a kickboxing champion and member of the controversial Azov regiment, an ultra-nationalist unit of the National Guard of Ukraine that includes neo-Nazis, was killed while fighting in Mariupol. Three months later, Ukrainian boxer Oleg Prudky died on the frontlines of the war. 

A Polish MMA fighter named Tomasz Walentek who volunteered for the International Defense Legion of Ukraine was killed in August 2022 following Russian artillery shelling in the Donbas region. Maksym Galinichev, a Ukrainian boxer who was a medalist at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games, and  Ukrainian kickboxing champion Vitaly Merinov were both killed in action in March 2023. 

Meanwhile, several Russian MMA fighters are also participating in the ongoing invasion. AMC Fight Nights middleweight champion Vladimir Mineev is currently stationed in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that is under Russian occupation. 

The 33-year-old former paratrooper volunteered for the war on the condition that he be allowed to take part in one last kickboxing bout prior to serving. He trained for the bout in the occupied city of Mariupol in Ukraine and went on to defeat Brazil’s Fernando Rodriguez by TKO on Nov. 18, 2022. He joined the war shortly thereafter. 

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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