‘Ukraine must change or be destroyed’

Boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko warns countrymen as he aims to become Ukraine president.

Klitschko has never been knocked out in his career and hopes for the same in next year's elections [Getty Images]

World heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko put his boxing career on hold last month and turned into a politician.

Despite leaving the tense fight in the ring, the Ukrainian’s life is far from settled.

As a leader of the Ukrainian opposition party, United Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), Klitschko continues to challenge Ukraine’s current president Viktor Yanukovich and plans to stand against him at the next presidential election in February 2015.

Klitschko has never been knocked out in a professional boxing match – his political party’s acronym means ‘punch’ in Ukrainian – and has been at the forefront Ukraine’s biggest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“I love Kiev, I love Ukraine, it’s my home and I feel comfortable here,” Klitschko told Al Jazeera.

“Although I can afford to lead a comfortable life, I am surrounded by unfortunate and poor people. Ukraine is way behind in standard of living.

Klitschko has vowed a fight against corruption and unfair treatment in Ukraine, labeling Europe ‘a good example’ for his people given the state of ‘democracy, human rights and the economy’ in the continent.

“We are now faced with a decision of whether to change Ukraine or be destroyed.”

Leading polls

Klitschko is extremely popular in Ukraine: according to a recent poll involving 32,000 people, the boxer has the backing of 43% of those with only 25% going for Yanukovich.

His success, or lack of, next year will also have huge consequences on his boxing career. Fans are certain that if he succeeds outside the ring, Klitschko will never step inside it again.

His first boxing coach, Mikhail Mazikh, is sure that the champion will don the gloves whatever the election outcome is.

He’s a decent man who deserves to be the president of Ukraine

by Mikhail Mazikh, Klitschko's first boxing coach

“He hasn’t retired and I’m sure we’ll see Klitschko fight again,” Mazikh said.

“He’ll be back. Of course, he has other priorities right now but that doesn’t mean that he won’t return at to vie for the title.

He’s been granted the right to challenge the new champion by the WBC when he decides to resume his boxing career.

“He’s taking a break to concentrate on politics but he’ll return for at least for one more fight, I give you my word.”

Klitschko has Mazikh’s backing outside the ring as well as the coach termed him a ‘very honest and fair person, unlike any other politicians in Ukraine’.

“He didn’t cheat anybody, he’s gained his reputation and fortune through hard work and I think if he wins, the world will regard the people of Ukraine differently.

“He’s a decent man who deserves to be the president of Ukraine.”

Klitschko’s decision to hang up his gloves – for now – has received a lot of support in the boxing world.

“Wish I could’ve fought Vitali Klitschko, admire and respect what he has done.. Congrats champ and good luck with politics my man. Bowe,” tweeted US boxer Riddick Bowe, a former two-time world heavyweight champion.

By turning his back on boxing, Klitschko vacated his title, a contender for which is Briton’s Dereck Chisora who lost to the Ukrainian on points in 2012.

Chisora’s impressive show was overshadowed by his action at the weigh-in when he slapped Klitschko before spitting water in his brother’s face ahead of the fight.

“Those incidents are a thing of the past and I can’t wish anything but luck to Klitschko with his new career now,” Chisora said.

“He was a great opponent in the ring and I think he’s great for his people. I have huge respect for his decision and If I had the opportunity, I would definitely vote for him.”

Source: Al Jazeera