Underground boxing in Ukraine as war rages on

15 months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, boxing returned to the war-torn nation with a unique event held in an underground subway station.

By: Karim Zidan | 2 weeks ago
Underground boxing in Ukraine as war rages on
Credit: Ukraine Boxing Federation

An underground subway station in the war-torn region of Kharkiv, Ukraine played host to a unique boxing event held in the memory of fallen soldiers. 

The event, which took place last weekend, featured an array of amateur boxers, including members of the Ukrainian Olympic team, and was dedicated to the “heroes of Kharkiv”—a city in the eastern region of the country that has been under constant bombardment by Russian forces since the start of the war. 

A Return to Sports

The decision to hold the event in a subway station was due to the city’s continued role in the frontlines of the war. However, despite the security concerns—Kharkiv lies approximately 19 miles south of the Russian border—the event attracted hundreds of civilian fans (and military personnel) looking to enjoy a night of amateur fights. 

The boxing show also happened to be the first sports event that Kharkiv has hosted since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.

“The Boxing Federation wants to show this event that sport exists in Kharkiv,” said Oleksandr Manchak, an official at the Ukrainian Boxing Federation. “We are starting to return to life in our city, adjusting to the conditions that are present, but in doing so, we are only moving forward.”

“This tournament was very important for the development, restoration of infrastructure, all spheres of activity and most importantly – life in Kharkiv. It is very important that people play sports, distract from military action,” Manchak continued.

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Boxing Controversy

The “Heroes of Kharkiv” show last weekend was the first time that the Ukrainian Olympic boxing team had performed since its decision to boycott the World Boxing Championships earlier this year. The boycott stemmed from a decision taken by the International Boxing Association (IBA)—which hosts the world championships—to lift a ban on Russian athletes competing with their flag and national anthem despite the ongoing war. The United States and several other Western countries also joined the boycott and have since helped establish a breakaway boxing association to rival the IBA.

“Our answer is clear: our athletes and representatives do not perform where the representatives of the aggressor countries will perform – these are Russia and Belarus,” said Oleg Ilchenko, vice president of the country’s boxing federation.

“The position is basic: as long as the war is going on and as long as the troops of the Russian Federation are on the territory of our state, they all appeal that they will not speak.”

To learn more about how the Ukrainian government uses combat sports as a form of wartime statecraft and resistance, subscribe for free to Karim Zidan’s newsletter.

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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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