“With the curfew in town and travel restrictions, we needed a place to let off steam and release emotional tension,” says Oleksandre, 38, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Naturally that helps a lot,” he admits after completing a workout that includes floor work, running and several hanging bag punching sessions.
Since the withdrawal of Russian forces from around kyiv at the end of March, the Ukrainian capital is slowly returning to almost normal life, with nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants having already returned, according to the town hall.
Restaurants have reopened and, with the arrival of a late spring, sidewalk cafes are once again attracting customers, where many seem to ignore the few sirens warning of the danger of an air raid, which still echo through the city. .
Gyms have also started to resume operations, including the All Stars Boxing Club in downtown Kyiv.
At All Stars, trainers put boxing fans, fitness fanatics and newcomers through their paces: jump rope, abs and sparring.
For two decades, Ukraine has maintained a dominant presence in the boxing world, its stars having a reputation for being fast, precise and technical fighters — skills that seem to have carried over to the real battlefield.
– Hold out –
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir held a string of heavyweight titles for years, propelling the duo to superstardom in Ukraine, which also contributed to Vitali’s successful political career.
Current heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk briefly hung up his gloves in February to join Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, before returning to train for a much-anticipated rematch against UK star boxer Anthony Joshua, this summer.
“Of course, these boxers motivate me, but I’m not training to become a professional, rather to stay in shape,” said Vladislav, a 35-year-old real estate investor.
“Sport keeps you in shape, both mentally and physically, and helps to overcome stress,” he explains.
Vladislav’s attitude mirrors that of many other sportsmen at the All Stars, where boxing offers a way to stay in shape, while dealing with the severe bouts of anxiety and stress that come with wartime life.
“In these circumstances, sport is the only activity where you can really engage and make good use of yourself,” says Igor, 35.
This official is from Donetsk, a large industrial city in the east of the country, which has become a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists who fight alongside troops from Moscow and with whom the Ukrainian army has been at war since 2014.
For Igor, the Russian invasion launched on February 24 is therefore “a bit of déjà vu”. “Sport helps” to hold on, he admits.
“One of the benefits of boxing is that it keeps your mind clear,” adds Oleksandre. “All thoughts go away, it helps to restart”.