Athletes-turned-servicemen and women are not unique to America

Athletes-turned-servicemen and women are not unique to America

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has produced a few heroes of its own

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Photo: Getty Images

While Memorial Day may be a uniquely American holiday, its sentiments — honoring those who have given their lives for their country in the line of duty — are global. America is no longer at war, having pulled out of Afghanistan, and if there was any positive to take away from that conflict that raged on for decades, it’s that US soldiers are no longer losing their lives in a war that was never really winnable.

America’s failure in the Middle East doesn’t diminish the ultimate sacrifice so many made by giving their lives, including athletes like Pat Tillman. A person dying for their country during World War II is just as heart wrenching as a draftee getting killed in Vietnam.

Today, we remember the dearly departed service men and women — including the sports figures turned soldiers — who allow us to live in this country and openly criticize it. If you want to keep your Memorial Day remembrances United States specific, by all means, do that. We have content for that, too.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the war crimes being inflicted upon its people by Russian forces who’ve been brainwashed by President Vladimir Putin into thinking their invasion of a sovereign country is justified. That’s why I thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge the Ukrainian athletes who’ve died during the conflict on a day designated for honoring fallen heroes. Some had taken off their boxing gloves and picked up arms to defend their home country, and others simply had their dreams of a career in professional sports cut short.

People may be aware of the more notable Ukrainians like the Klitschko brothers and Vasiliy Lomanchenko, boxers who have enlisted in the military to defend their country. But they’re not the only athletes to do so, and tragically not all who’ve made that decision are still with us. Below are a few athletes — a boxer, a couple of soccer players, a biathlete — who were needlessly taken away from their loved ones entirely too soon.

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Oleg Prudky, boxer

Oleg Prudky, boxer

Image for article titled Athletes-turned-servicemen and women are not unique to America
Photo: Instagram/mariashka1388

The 30-year-old two-time Ukrainian boxing champion was killed while fighting Russian forces on the frontline on May 21. He was working in a police force that was assisting special forces in the region of Cherkasy over the past few months. Tributes poured out, including from the Cherkasy Boxing Federation and the Ukrainian Boxing Federation.

The Ukrainian Boxing Federation wrote, in part: “We are sad to announce that the master of sports of international boxing class, champion of Ukraine Oleg Prudky, died in battles with the Russian occupiers.”

Prudky is survived by wife Mariana and two young daughters.

A translation of Mariana’s tribute on Instagram read:

“War — it takes away the best. I don’t believe, I don’t believe that you are no more.

“What I will not hear — Good morning darling! I’m fine! How are the girls? And the most important thing is that you will never tell me again — I LOVE you.

“You were like a bright sun, an example for your children, who adore you so much and ask you every time, and when dad comes.

“How can I tell them that they will never see you again?

“You were an example for your friends and colleagues. You are my ANGEL. I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH.”

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Vitalii Sapylo, soccer

Vitalii Sapylo, soccer

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Photo: Twitter/fifpro

Sapylo had enlisted In the Ukrainian army as a tank commander to defend his country before the 21-year-old youth league player died in a battle near Kyiv with Russian invaders in early March. One of two soccer players to die from the war in early March, Sapylo and Dmytro Martynenko (more on him in a second) were believed to be the first two casualties from the world’s most popular sport.

Sapylo’s club, third division FC Karpaty Lviv, praised their fallen compatriot in a statement.

“The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine to fifteen of our defenders who are defending their land from the invasion of Russian troops,” a translation of the post read.

“Among them is a pupil of the Karpathian school, Lieutenant Vitaliy Sapylo, who died in battle near Kyiv.

“It is reported that Sapylo was the commander of a tank platoon and neutralized 30 units of enemy equipment. Vitaly was killed in an air strike on February 25.

“To the eternal memory of the Hero!”

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Dmytro Martynenko, soccer

Dmytro Martynenko, soccer

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Photo: Twitter/fifpro

At age 25, Martyneko was on his way to playing in Israel, a dream for the Jewish midfielder/striker who was the top scorer for Gostomel, a team in the second amateur league in Kyiv. That aspiration ended when he was killed, along with his mother, in their home during a Russian bombardment in early March.

His agent, Yoav Elimelech, said Martyneko was slated to join Israel’s Liga Alef, the third-tier league in the country and its top amateur league, for the 2022-23 season.

“We first got in touch about two years ago. I have many Jewish players from the Russian-speaking community: Ukraine, Belarus and Russia,” Elimelech said. “Martynenko wanted to come to Israel following the footsteps of many other players before him.

“I was impressed by him. He seemed like a very educated, intelligent and quiet person.”

The international football association FIFPRO paid respect to both Sapylo and Martynenko on Twitter, saying “Our sympathies are with the families, friends, and teammates of young Ukrainian footballers Vitalii Sapylo and Dmytro Martynenko, football’s first reported losses in this war. May they Rest In Peace.”



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Yevhen Malyshev, biathlete

Yevhen Malyshev, biathlete

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Photo: Facebook/biathlonfua

Malyshev’s death also came early in the war, as the 19-year-old biathlete had enlisted in the service and died protecting his country. His passing led to the expulsion of Russian and Belarusian players from the Paralympics, and that domino falling contributed to the ban of athletes from those countries in other sports. While he was a member of Ukraine’s biathlon junior team in 2018, he stopped competing in 2020. I couldn’t find much else on Malyshev, but his sacrifice is no less meaningful than any other Ukrainian who has died trying to fend off the Russian invasion.

As this war rages on and the number of dead civilians, soldiers, athletes, women, children, and others continues to soar, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on not only the Americans and Ukrainians who have died in conflicts, but also victims of war across the globe.

So before you bite into that third cheeseburger and grab another Coors Light on your day off, try to be mindful that, for a large portion of people, Memorial Day serves as a lot more than a springboard to summer.

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