Last week, Russian tyrant president Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. In light of the events of the last several days, it felt wrong to report on any sporting event as if nothing bigger is happening. So this week, I’m here to highlight how teams and players of all sports worldwide have chosen to support the people and country of Ukraine.
Jokerit is one of five teams in the KHL outside of Russia. They were also one of the first sports teams to make a statement after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The Finnish team announced on Friday that they would not be participating in the playoffs and their season is over. They were third in their conference and set to play Spartak Moscow on March 1.
The move has been criticized on both sides. KHL president Alexei Morozov expressed his disappointment at the political move. Jokerit’s exit reportedly stems from pressure from fans and sponsors alike in the preceding days. In either case, the suspension of the season is a clear show of support for Ukraine and its people; now is not the time to participate in Russian-run leagues.
As a side note, it’s important to remember that the KHL is heavily influenced by Putin himself. I’m sure hockey fans remember when he rigged the playoffs in favor of his own team. Here’s a Twitter thread further explaining that situation. Recently, the son of one of his close allies got a coaching job in the league despite no professional hockey experience; wonder how he landed that. All that to say, don’t come at me with, “but the KHL is separate from the government!!!” It’s not.
Manchester City & Everton
Premier League teams are permitted to wave Ukrainian flags in protest of the invasion this weekend. Manchester City and Everton, in their match on Saturday, did better for the two Ukrainian nationals.
Man City players all had t-shirts with the flag and “No War” over their jerseys. Everton players all had flags draped over their backs. Fans waved their own flags and dropped a banner from the stands reading “We Stand with Ukraine.” From stadium speakers, 1969 hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by The Hollies played.
The two Ukrainians, Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester) and Vitaliy Mykolenko (Everton), shared an emotional meeting on the pitch before kickoff.
While many athletes from countries outside of Ukraine have spoken out against the war, fewer Russians have. In a bold act of protest, Russian tennis player (no. 7 in the world) Andrey Rublev took a maker to a camera lens on Friday. Unprompted, he wrote, “No war please,” in English on the lens.
The number 1 tennis player in the world, Daniil Medvedev, also spoke out. He expressed his desire for peace and his appreciation to be able to play in so many countries.
Soccer player Fyodor Smolov posted a black screen on his Instagram page on Thursday. It’s captioned, in Russian, “no to war.”
Perhaps most controversial was the statement from Capitals all-star Alex Ovechkin. He is known to be seemingly close with Putin, so the world was eagerly awaiting his response. In his statement at a press conference, he said he is against war and hopes it will end soon. He also reminded the reporters that he is not a politician and these decisions are not in his hands. It’s important to remember that while Ovi is in the US, his wife, kids, parents, and extended family are all in Russia.
Former Capitals player and Ukrainian national Dmitri Khristich reached out to reported Gord Miller from TSN on Saturday. He asked to pass on the message that Ukraine was fighting hard and doing their best. He said, “We need you to tell the Russian people what is really going on. All they hear is propaganda and lies.”
Out of 8 to play in the league, Khristich is the highest scoring Ukrainian in NHL history.
Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky won the ATP Tour title four times. Today, the New York Post reported that he also enlisted in the Ukrainian army. He told them that his father and brother, both surgeons, have been sleeping in their basement. Stakhovsky says he is trying to get back into Ukraine for the sole purpose of fighting.
Vitali & Wladimir Klitschko
Former heavyweight champions and Boxing Hall of Famers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko announced on Thursday that they are prepared to take up arms for their country. Vitali, who is the mayor of Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv (Ukrainian spelling; ‘Kiev’ is the Russian spelling), said, “I have to do that. I would fight.” Wladimir enlisted in the army reserves earlier this month.
Weeks like these prove that there are many things more important than our differences. No matter what sport you play, what team you support, what country you come from, it’s imperative that the world comes together to fight tyranny. Athletes may not be politicians, but their massive followings can bring major support to the cause. And, if nothing else, athletes can stand in support of their Ukrainian teammates, friends, and colleagues.
Я з Україною. I stand with Ukraine.
Places to Donate
Ukraine.ua has official sites and donation links
The Ukraine Humanitarian Fund from the United Nations
Bring Hockey Back, for those who want a hockey spin; all proceeds go to charities linked there
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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