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

The sky is clear and calm, and birds can be heard chirping in the trees above them. Amosov describes the evening as “calm”.

But for many Ukrainians, such moments have been few and far between since Russia began its invasion on February 24, and every few steps, Amosov is reminded of the destruction Vladimir Putin’s war brought to his homeland.

In April, local authorities said around 50% of Irpin’s critical infrastructure had been destroyed.

“It has always been very nice here, people were happy, they were happy with their life and they enjoyed it.

“Then just look at the city now, which is on fire, which is destroyed and it becomes horrible to look at. You couldn’t really walk around the city because the streets were covered with trees, in some places, there were parts of houses. Destruction.”

The Ukrainian is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of his generation and, with a record of 26-0, he currently holds the longest streak of consecutive victories in all MMAs. On May 13 he was expected to defend his world welterweight title at the Bellator event at London’s Wembley Arena.

Yaroslav Amosov poses for weight photos before taking on Dave Rickels in August 2019.

Amosov was chasing Khabib Nurmagomedov’s all-time unbeaten record of 29-0 and had to fight Michael Page in a highly anticipated match, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced him to retire.

The 28-year-old had returned home from a training camp in Thailand four days before the war began. Once Russian troops began advancing, Amosov says he took his wife and six-month-old son to safety on the outskirts of Ukraine before joining the territorial defense to help civilians in and around Irpin.

The sad reality of the war soon became evident.

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

“People run … they take their children, they pick up their parents and they run, they cry, they don’t know what to do. People run with their pets.

“I saw this situation when a soldier ran holding a child in his arms. The child’s things were all covered in blood, but the blood was not his, it was his father. The mother was running after. I don’t know in the end of what it happened to the baby’s father, but it’s very hard to watch.

“The baby was probably two or three years old, but he didn’t even understand what was going on, I didn’t hear him cry, he was probably just in unreal shock.”

Such was the hectic nature of those early days of the invasion, that Amosov and his friends – who claim they have never held weapons before – only received brief training on how to use their weapons as the fighting had already begun in the city.

Amosov says one of the moments that struck him most came a few weeks later, once much of the city was liberated from Russian occupation.

His team was touring Irpin to distribute aid and found civilians who had been hiding in basements for nearly a month with limited food and water.

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

It vividly remembers a man they found crying after receiving bread. “Seeing a person crying just because he is holding a piece of bread is very painful and very painful to look at,” says Amosov.

Last week, Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin said in a statement that the bodies of 290 civilians had been recovered in the city by the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Markushin said 185 of the dead have been identified, most of whom were men. The cause of death were “shrapnel and gunshot wounds”. At least five of the dead suffered brain injuries and starvation, according to Markushin.

In total, more than eight million people have been internally displaced in Ukraine, according to the latest report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency.

“You want to defend this country”

In his darkest moments, Amosov admits that he didn’t know if he would survive the day to be able to go to bed every night. What kept him going, he says, was the “crazy help” and kindness of Ukrainian citizens every day.

Amosov and his group often didn’t have time to eat until the evening, but were regularly greeted along the way by civilians who had cooked food and prepared hot drinks for those helping the war effort in Ukraine.

Even those who have next to nothing would try to give the soldiers something, sometimes just a bar of chocolate.

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

While Amosov survived the worst fights in Irpin, not everyone he fought with was so lucky. After taking a couple of days away to visit his wife and son, Amosov says he has returned and finds that one of the young men who joined the territorial defense with him had died.

“It’s hard to watch when a mother buries her son and his girlfriend, who plans a future with him, is standing there too,” he recalls. “This is our home, our families live here and we want things to go back to the way they used to be. We lived a good life, we were satisfied with everything.

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

Last month, a video Amosov posted about himself retrieving the Bellator world championship belt from his mother’s home in Irpin went viral.

In the video, Amosov climbs a ladder into the house carrying a plastic bag, which he opens to reveal the belt.

He laughs and says he was “taking the belt for the second time” and later posted a photo of him holding the title while surrounded by a group in military uniform.

MMA champion Yaroslav Amosov recovered the 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 was good that my mother hid it well and she survived and that day the Russian soldiers were retreating to our side of Ukraine, so her mood was better.

“But at the same time, I’m standing here now and it’s calm in our city and it’s all right, but I understand and know what’s going on in other cities and it’s hard to laugh with friends, it’s hard to be in a good mood because after I’ve been in these situations when there are bombings all the time and there are shootings. “

‘This is destruction’

One day during the war, Amosov says his friends introduced him to a fan of his, a young man who practiced martial arts but was now wounded in hospital.

Amosov began texting the boy and soon made arrangements to visit him. When he arrived, Amosov was shocked to discover that this young fan, who was only 20, had lost both of his legs in the fighting.

“I don’t understand why people don’t believe what’s going on here, they think so [Russia] have a “special operation” underway to save people, “he says, referring to the euphemistic description used by Russian officials to describe the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“But look what is happening in Mariupol, look at all the other cities we have in Ukraine that have been damaged and many civilians have died just wanting to live. They didn’t want any war, they were satisfied with everything.

“I don’t understand how you can fight so cruelly, without rules. I get this impression that it’s almost like something non-human. How can you act like this? How many people were injured? How many died? How many lost their homes? And do they talk about saving? This is not saving, this is destruction “.

Once the fighting in Irpin began to subside, Amosov says he immediately returned to his mixed martial arts training.

Logan Storley was the fighter called to replace Amosov for Friday’s bout against Page and the Ukrainian says he can’t wait to get back to the cage and will watch closely to see who wins.

“Now [I’m] finding my shape … I want to return “, he says.” I want our whole country to return to its previous life and I would like to defend my belt “.

Amosov admits he doesn’t know when that will happen, but he knows what his home country will look like once the war is finally over.

“For every Ukrainian citizen, it will look like the best country in the world, the most beautiful and the most loved.”