ukrainian flag waving in wind with clear sky in background
Photo by Nati on Pexels.com

It’s ironic that Russia’s barbaric slaughter of Ukrainians has both horrified and inspired the world.

Clearly, the soulless Vladimir Putin knew nothing of the courage and strength that burns in the Ukrainian people, exemplified spiritually – and physically – by brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, whose story defies believability.

Vitali, 50, is the mayor of besieged Kyiv. As Russia threatened to invade Ukraine early last month, Wladimir, 46, enlisted in his country’s army reserve. 

Both hold doctorates in sports science. And as retired boxers each has held something else: the title “Heavyweight Champion of the World.” As if that weren’t enough, due to quirks in boxing’s bureaucracy, they once held the title simultaneously.

Either of this duo could grab Putin by the throat and crush him like a dyed pyanska Easter egg. Vitali stands 6’ 7’’ and weighs 247 pounds. Wladimir is 6’6” and weighs 240.

Vitali, who retired in 2013, fought 47 professional bouts and won 45 of them, 41 by knockouts. 

Wladimir, fought 69 pro bouts before his retirement in 2017. He won 64 of them, 53 by knockouts.

Four separate boxing agencies each name their own champion, and for nearly 2 1/2 years the Klitschkos between them held all four titles. Their dominance as siblings earned them a place in Guinness World Records..

The herculean brothers never fought each other, and there was a reason for that: They promised their mother they wouldn’t. 

These days, the two stand with President Zelensky, himself a pillar of inspiration and courage at 5’7,’’ shaking their massive fists at the malevolent Putin and vowing with eloquent fury to defend their burning homeland.

Vitali told Reuters he mulls no other choice, declaring, “I’ll be fighting… I believe in Ukraine, I believe in my country and I believe in my people.”

When Wladimir enlisted, he said, “It is the love, love for my city, my home, my family, my neighbors, my daughter that has brought me here today.”

The two have reportedly been added to Putin’s 24-person “kill list,” an index of adversaries he especially wishes to add to his grotesque Ukrainian murders.

“We are not going to surrender. We have nowhere to retreat,” Kyiv’s embattled mayor said in a recent interview.

On Instagram, Wladimir pledged, “We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy… Let not fear seize us, let’s not remain frozen. Putin shoots at Ukrainian cities, but he aims at our hearts, and more importantly, at our minds.”

The Klitschkos pledge to stand behind their nicknames, which allude to both their educations and their bulk: Vitali is “Doctor Ironfist” and Wladimir, “Doctor Steelhammer.”

The defiant brothers are proof positive that iron and steel, while dependable as comrades-in-arms, are never so effective as when they reflect the essence and backbone of the human spirit. 

Gerry Goldstein (gerryg76@verizon.net) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist. 

Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years