Kyiv, Ukraine – Former world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko has joined an offshoot of the Ukrainian army as the country continues to prepare for a potential invasion from Russia.
At his registration for the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces in Kyiv on Wednesday, Klitschko said that although “we all hope and pray” that a military conflict can be avoided, it is important to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
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“If the aggressors come to our country, we do not have another choice, we have to defend our city, our country, our future as a democratic European country,” he said.
In recent months, Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops along its borders with Ukraine.
On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that Russia had recently deployed about 30,000 combat-ready troops and weapons to Belarus, a country located roughly 100km from Kyiv.
Klitschko, who lives in the Ukrainian capital with his daughter, hoped his registration would motivate others in the city to stay strong in the face of an attack.
“Any parent is going to protect the environment of their child, and there are two ways, you can run, or you can face the challenge, so my choice was to take the challenge,” he said.
Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces launched in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, to train part-time reservists. Last year, as fears grew over Russia’s troop deployment, it opened up to civilians.
Klitschko’s brother, Vitali Klitschko, also a former world heavyweight boxing champion, and now mayor of Kyiv, attended the event as he hoped diplomacy would prevail.
“We hope our diplomats find a way to stop this aggression,” he said but warned that Russia would pay a “very heavy price” should it attack Ukraine.
He described an invasion as a “disaster not just for Ukraine, but [for the] whole European stability”.
‘We need support from our friends’
Mayor Klitschko was eager to thank Ukraine’s allies who had sent weapons to the country.
“Thank you very much to everybody who supports our territorial integrity and independence of our country,” he said. “We need support from our friends in this critical situation for Ukraine”.
In December, the United States approved a $200m security support package for Ukraine and on Wednesday President Joe Biden ordered 3,000 troops to Poland, Germany and Romania in response to escalating tensions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kyiv on Tuesday and announced at a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky that the United Kingdom would pledge 88m pounds ($120m) to promote stable governance and energy independence from Russia.
Mayor Klitschko said he was concerned that the Russian threat is part of an attempt to rebuild the Soviet Union.
“We don’t want to go back to the USSR, we see our future as a modern European democratic country, Ukraine,” he said.
The two brothers stopped short of predicting what would happen in the coming weeks but were clear in their message that it was essential to prepare for all eventualities.
“We are not aggressive to anyone, we are a friendly nation, but if aggressors come to our country, we have to defend,” said Mayor Klitschko.