Yaroslav Amosov: Ukrainian MMA champion talks about the horrors of war – “This is not salvation, this is destruction”

The sky is clear and still, and you can hear the birds chirping in the trees above. Amosov describes the evening as “calm”.

But for many Ukrainians, there have been few such moments since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, and every few steps Amosov takes are reminded of the devastation Vladimir Putin’s war has brought to his homeland.

Back in April, local authorities announced that about 50% of Irpin’s critical infrastructure had been destroyed.

“It has always been very beautiful here, people were happy, they were satisfied with their lives and enjoyed it.

“Then just look at the city now, which is burning, which is being destroyed and it becomes scary to look at. You can’t really drive around the city, because the roads are overgrown with trees, in some places there were parts of houses. Destruction”.

The Ukrainian is one of the best fighters in any weight class of his generation and currently has the longest unbeaten streak in all of MMA at 26-0. On May 13, he was due to defend his world welterweight title at the Bellator event at Wembley Arena in London.

Yaroslav Amosov poses for photographers at the weigh-in before Dave Rickels' challenge in August 2019.

Amosov was chasing Khabib Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten record of 29-0 and was scheduled to take on Michael Page in a highly anticipated bout before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced him to pull out.

A 28-year-old man returned home from a training camp in Thailand four days before the start of the war. As soon as the Russian troops began their offensive, Amosov said he took his wife and six-month-old son to safety on the outskirts of Ukraine and then joined the territorial defense to help the civilian population in and around Irpin.

The grim reality of war quickly became apparent.

“In the early days, it was very hard to watch, get used to all these events, watch people run away from their homes,” Amosov recalls. “Not everyone could leave, some had parents they couldn’t leave who were very old and couldn’t move normally.

“People are running… taking their children, taking their parents in their arms and running, crying, they don’t know what to do. People run with their pets.

Yaroslav Amosov, with his head in his hands, with the rest of the Ukrainian soldiers preparing to meet with Russian troops in Irpen, Ukraine.

“I saw such a situation when a soldier ran with a child in his arms. The child’s things were all covered in blood, but the blood was not his, but his father’s. Mother ran behind. the end of what happened to the baby’s father, but it’s very hard to watch.

“The child was probably two or three years old, but he didn’t even understand what was happening, I didn’t hear him cry, he was probably in some kind of unreal shock.”

Such was the frenzied nature of those first days of the invasion that Amosov and his friends, who he said had never held a weapon before, received only a brief instruction in the use of weapons, as fighting had already begun in the city.

Amosov says one of his most memorable moments happened a few weeks later, when most of the city was liberated from Russian occupation.

His team traveled to Irpin to distribute aid and found civilians who had been hiding in cellars for almost a month without food or water.

Amosov was due to defend his title in London on Friday.

He vividly remembers a man they found crying after being handed some bread. “To see a person crying just because he is holding a piece of bread is very painful and very painful to watch,” recalls Amosov.

Last week, the mayor of Irpin, Alexander Markushin, said in a statement that the bodies of 290 civilians were found in the city after the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Markushin said that 185 dead have been identified, most of them men. The cause of death was “shrapnel and gunshot wounds.” According to Markushin, at least five of the dead received head injuries and starved to death.

According to the latest report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, a total of more than eight million people were internally displaced in Ukraine.

“You want to protect this country”

In the darkest moments of his life, Amosov confesses that he did not know if he would survive the day to go to bed every night. According to him, he was supported by “crazy help” and the daily kindness of Ukrainian citizens.

Amosov and his group often did not have time to eat before evening, but they were regularly met on the sides of the road by civilians who prepared food and brewed hot drinks for those who helped Ukraine.

Even those who had almost nothing tried to give the soldiers something, sometimes just a chocolate bar.

“I am proud that we have such people and that we live in such a wonderful country,” he says.

Although Amosov survived the worst fights at Irpen, not everyone he fought alongside was lucky. After leaving for a couple of days to visit his wife and son, Amosov says that he returned and found that one of the young people who joined the territorial defense with him had died.

“It’s hard to watch when a mother buries her child, and next to him is his girlfriend, who planned the future with him,” he recalls. “This is our home, our families live here, and we want everything to return to the way it was. We lived a good life, everything suited us.

“When you look at all these people, women, children, when you see those mothers who buried their children, when you see what happens to your city, when your city is on fire, you want to help and you want to protect this city, this country “.

Last month, a video went viral showing Amosov picking up his Bellator belt from his mother’s home in Irpin.

The video shows Amosov climbing the stairs again in the house with a plastic bag, which he opens to reveal a belt.

He laughs and says he is “getting the belt for the second time” and later posted a photo of him holding the title in the air, surrounded by a group in military uniform.

MMA champion Yaroslav Amosov retrieved his belt from the rubble of his home in Iprin.

“At that moment it was nice because the belt was safe and sound,” he says. “It’s good that my mother hid him well, and he survived, and on that day Russian soldiers were retreating from our part of Ukraine, so the mood was better.

“But at the same time, I’m standing here now, and in our city everything is calm and everything is fine, but I understand and know what is happening in other cities, and it’s hard to just laugh with friends, it’s hard to be in a good mood, because after like I’ve been in situations where they’re bombing and shooting all the time.”

“This is destruction”

Once during the war, according to Amosov, friends told him about their fan, a young man who used to practice martial arts, but is now wounded in the hospital.

Amosov began to correspond with the boy and soon arranged to visit him. When he arrived, Amosov was devastated to find that this young fan, who was only 20 years old, had lost both legs in the fight.

“I don’t understand why people don’t believe what is happening here, they think that [Russia] to carry out a “special operation” to save people,” he says, referring to the euphemistic definition used by Russian officials to describe the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“But look at what is happening with Mariupol, look at all the other cities that we have in Ukraine, which have suffered and killed many civilians who just wanted to live. They did not want any war, everything suited them.

“I don’t understand how it was possible to fight so cruelly, not according to some rules. I have the impression that it’s almost like something inhuman. How can you do this? How many people were injured? How many died? How many lost their homes “And they talk about salvation? It’s not salvation, it’s destruction.”

According to Amosov, as soon as the fighting in Irpin began to subside, he immediately returned to training in mixed martial arts.

Logan Storley was the fighter called in to replace Amosov in Friday’s fight against Page, and the Ukrainian says he can’t wait to get back in the cage and will be keeping a close eye on who wins.

“Currently [I’m] getting back in shape… I want to get back, he says. “I want our whole country to return to its former life, and I would like to protect my belt.”

Amosov admits that he does not know when this will happen, but he knows what his native people will look like when the war is finally over.

“To every citizen of Ukraine, it will seem like the best country in the world, the most beautiful and most beloved.”