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Klitschko Brothers

In a time when there aren’t so many Ukrainians making headlines internationally and even fewer doing so in a positive connotation, the brothers Vitali and Vladimir Klitschko have become notable exceptions and something like token objects of the new Ukraine. Both have for years shaped the world of boxing, at one time combining all major world championship belts in their family and both have lent their faces and appeal to the anti-government protests of 2014 that paved the way towards a modernization of their home country.


In that regard, it is surprising on first glance to see that neither of the two was actually born in Ukraine. The reason for this lies in their father’s occupation: Vladimir Rodionovich Klitschko was a major general in the air force and was deployed to varying sites of operation in his career. While his oldest son Vitali was born in what is today Kyrgyzstan and Wladimir on the territory of today’s Kazakhstan, both countries then a part of the Soviet Union, it was an assignment in his native Ukraine that should have the deepest impact on him. The famous brothers’ dad had been one of the officials assigned to lead the cleanup efforts after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a tour of duty that in all likelihood effected him to contract cancer a few years later. The elder Klitschko died from his disease in 2011.

At that time, both brothers had been at the top of their sport together - again. Vitali had come out of retirement and had once again claimed his heavyweight title and had successfully defended it a number of times. The younger brother Wladimir has pursued his boxing career further since then, extending his championship reign to make it the second-longest in history. Wladimir was born in 1976. He has earned his nickname “Dr. Steelhammer” by achieving a PhD in Sports Science from Taras Shevchenko National University in Kiev in 2001. Before enrolling in this postgraduate program, he had completed his graduate studies at Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky Institute in 1996, shortly before he won the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games. He would auction his medal in Kiev in 2012, for a price of $1 million, which he donated entirely to welfare organizations helping children in Ukraine.

After the Olympics, Wladimir had made the switch to professional boxing in a German team, relocating to the Hamburg area. He won his first major pro world championship title in 2000 and, apart from minor setbacks, remained at the top of the international boxing scene for the next 15 years. In between bouts, he enjoys playing small parts in movies, appearing in Ocean’s Eleven and other films, and dedicates a lot of time and money to charity work, mostly focused on the education, welfare and support of children. In 2014, Wladimir became a father himself when his fiancée, US actress Hayden Panettiere, delivered their daughter Kaya. Of his almost 70 professional fights, only one took place in his home country, in Kiev in 1998. Unlike his older brother, he has mostly refrained from becoming involved in politics, although he and Panettiere did make an appearance on Maidan during the 2014 protests and addressed the crowd in support and he had also voiced his support for the Orange Revolution in 2004.     

Vitali, born in 1971, served as a role model for his brother in many regards. He had been the first one in the family to pursue a career in sports, making a name for himself in kickboxing before he switched to boxing. Contrary to his brother, he missed the spotlight of the 1996 Olympics, because he was banned from participating after a probe found steroids in his blood. He started off in pro boxing that same year nevertheless and needed three years to achieve his first world championship title. Vitali and his brother had by then more or less relocated to Germany, where they found a commercially attractive and receptive audience. Later, they would move to the USA, where even more commercial opportunities could be found, but continued to host fights in European locations. Vitali began to voice his opinion on political issues at around the same time, becoming an outspoken supporter of presidential candidate Yushchenko and the so-called Orange Revolution. Shortly thereafter, he announced his retirement from professional sports, only to return in 2007, when he reclaimed and repeatedly defended his championship titles until he retired for good in 2013 at age 41. 

The older Klitschko brother’s political career started in 2005, when he was appointed as an advisor to newly-elected President Yushchenko. At the same time, he campaigned to become the mayor of Kyiv, but lost in the elections of 2006 - although he managed to win more votes than the incumbent -, but he took over a seat in the city council. Vitali has throughout the course of his political commitment always voiced his support for a thorough reform of the Ukrainian state, standing against corruption, the vast influence of oligarchs and an orientation at Western values. By taking this stance, he gained the support of political forces from abroad such as Angela Merkel’s CDU party in Germany. In the 2008 municipal elections, Klitschko was re-elected to the city council and in 2010 founded the new UDAR party, which runs on a pro-Western platform and follows the idea of Ukraine joining Western associations such as EU or NATO. Following these ideas, the party was successful in the 2012 parliamentary election.

As leader of UDAR’s parliament faction in the Rada Klitschko, who has been married to former model Natalia Egorowa since 1996 and has three children, became an outspoken critic of President Yanukovych, whom he called a liar and manipulator. Even before the Maidan protests took place, he took a stand for the improvement of living conditions for Ukrainian citizens and positioned himself as one of the leaders of the revolution. While initially following the idea of running for President, Klitschko later withdraw from the race and endorsed Petro Poroshenko instead. Despite relinquishing his seat in parliament in favor of assuming the role as mayor of Kiev in 2014, following a 57% victory in the local elections, Klitschko ist still considered to be one of the driving forces of Ukrainian reform politics behind President Poroshenko.