Did Oleksandr Usyk fight in the Russian-Ukrainian war? Heavyweight champ comments on conflict ahead of Anthony Joshua rematch

Oleksandr Usyk endured a surge from his rematch with Anthony Joshua that earned an outpouring of sympathy and support for the heavyweight boxing champion.

In February, as Usyk’s side were in negotiations for their second fight against the Londoner, Russia launched their attack on his native Ukraine.

Usyk will return to the ring for the first time since the invasion began when he fights Joshua in Jeddah on August 20.

What role did Usyk play in the conflict? Here’s how the situation affected the 2012 Olympic champion.

Did Oleksandr Usyk fight in the Russian-Ukrainian war?

Football fan Usyk was in London, where he dethroned Joshua on points at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last September, to watch Chelsea beat Lille in the Champions League two days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The 35-year-old patriot returned to his country and joined the Territorial Defense Force, pictured alongside his compatriots carrying a gun.

Martial law was quickly imposed in Ukraine, forcing grown men to stay put and defend their nation.

Usyk was one of the athletes, including the Ukrainian national football team who participated in World Cup qualifiers abroad, who was eventually granted special dispensation to leave Ukraine.

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The former heavyweight king initially trained in Poland and was also pictured training in Dubai ahead of the most publicized fight of his career, which could earn him around £100million (122, $5 million).

What did Usyk say about the war?

Usyk was inevitably asked about the situation in Ukraine during his latest round of press conferences with Joshua.

“My friends – people close to me – died in the war,” he said, dismissing a suggestion that it would give him extra motivation to beat Joshua again.

“When so many people are suffering, I have no idea how it can positively influence anything.

“I stayed there for a month: I saw with my own eyes what happened there, rockets flying and fighter jets flying. It’s horrible.

“Every day I was there I was praying and saying, ‘Please God, don’t let anyone try to kill me. Please don’t let anyone shoot me. And s ‘please don’t make me shoot another person.’

“I really didn’t want to leave our country. I didn’t want to leave our town. At one point I went to the hospital where soldiers were injured and being rehabilitated and they asked me to go, to to beat [Joshua] for the country.

“They said, ‘If you go there, you will help our country even more instead of fighting inside Ukraine.'”

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Usyk admitted he struggled to answer his children’s questions about the fate of Ukraine.

“My family is not in Ukraine but many of my close friends are still in the country,” he said. “I am in contact with them every day.

“I ask them, because it’s very important to me, how they feel. Are they in a safe place? I want to live there and right after the fight I go back to Ukraine.”

Which boxers were involved in the Russian-Ukrainian war?

Mayor of kyiv for eight years, Vitali Klitschko is the most famous boxer involved in the conflict.

Hall of Famer Klitschko warned of the threat he perceived for months before the invasion began, joining Ukrainian reserves in early February and repeatedly urging Russia to back down on social media.

Klitschko’s younger brother and ex-champion Wladimir followed suit. Joshua has been in touch with the 46-year-old, whom he knocked out at the end of an epic title fight at Wembley Stadium in April 2017, to offer his support.

Three-weight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko was set to face George Kambosos Jr in a title fight this year.

Instead, the revered top-ranked pound-for-pound lightweight stayed in Ukraine to be part of his country’s forces.