Watch: Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko attacks Putin - 'He's sick, he's an unhealthy man'
The Kyiv mayor and former heavyweight world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko has opened up about the pain and destruction being wrought on Ukraine’s capital by Vladimir Putin.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Yahoo News France, Klitschko revealed he has cried every day since the Russian president launched his invasion.
In a simple and defiant message to Russian troops, he said: “Stop the war, go away from Ukraine.”
Klitschko also branded Putin a “sick” man and vowed he is ready to give his life to defend his country to stop it being subsumed into a "Russian empire".
Klitschko and his brother Wladimir - also a former heavyweight world champion boxer - have been two key figureheads of Kyiv’s resistance to the Russian bombardment of the capital.
Kyiv has sustained heavy damage in the onslaught, with Klitschko reporting 220 civilian deaths so far.
However, Ukraine’s fierce resistance - along with organisational and logistical issues within Russia’s ranks - has meant the city is still standing strong.
Nonetheless, Putin has caused a humanitarian disaster, with hundreds more civilian deaths in the wider country and millions of people displaced from their homes.
Asked what he would say if Putin was in front of him, Klitschko said: “No reason to talk to him. He’s sick, he’s unhealthy. Everything that I see in my home country… [he’s] just an unhealthy man.”
He pointed to the destruction of cities such as Mariupol and killing of civilians, including six children in Kyiv.
“I have just one message to the Russians: you’re the aggressors, you’ve come to our country. Ukraine was always a friendly nation, a peaceful country. Right now, we have no choice but to fight and defend. The message to the Russians: go away from Ukraine. Go back home. You have nothing to find in our country. It’s our home.”
He repeated: “Stop the war. Stop the war. Go away from Ukraine. Main message.”
Klitschko, who has been mayor of Kyiv since 2014, is regarded as one of the toughest boxers in history. In his 16-year professional career, he was never knocked down in the ring and won 41 of his 47 fights by knockout.
Asked about whether his tough-guy public persona ever cracks, Klitschko - who has three children - said he has cried every day since Ukraine came under attack on 24 February.
He said he cried on Friday morning when speaking to a woman and her children following Russia’s latest assault on the capital.
“They don’t have money, apartments, nothing. And they don’t know what they have to do.
Watch: Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says he cries 'every day' at destruction Putin has caused
“To be honest, I’m an old man [Klitschko is 45], a tough man, but it’s difficult to listen to that, difficult to take the human emotions. This war kills… the futures of many, many people.
“To be honest, I cried together with this woman.”
On the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the Klitschko brothers announced they had taken up arms to fight for their city and country. “I don’t have another choice,” Vitali said at the time.
And speaking to Yahoo on Friday, Klitschko reiterated he is willing to die defending his country against Putin.
He reflected on his father, a former Soviet general who was one of the leaders in charge of the clean-up operation following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. He later died of the after-effects of exposure to the radiation.
“My father didn’t think about his health. He sought to help the people to fix the problem.
“If my home country needs my life, I am ready to give my life for my country, for my children, for the future of my family.”
Klitschko said Ukraine is “fighting for everyone in the world, for principles… exactly the same as the principles in every European country.
“We want to be part of the European family, to build a democratic European country. Putin holds a different view and that is the reason for this war.”
Breaking into a shout, he then reiterated: “Senseless war.”
Klitschko concluded by saying he is thinking positively: “We will defend our city, build a European democratic Ukraine.
“And we will stop this war.”