Long before he indulged his passion for human rights advocacy, Wladimir Klitschko was already a global boxing sensation. In 2011, he made a memorable visit to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) that, despite the many years since then, it still worth revisiting in light of his current role in peace advocacy in Ukraine.
From boxing ring to the frontline
Born in 1976, Wladimir Klitschko is a prominent former professional boxer from Ukraine who competed from 1996 to 2017, leaving an indelible mark on the sport’s international arenas. He held the world heavyweight championship twice and collected a number of titles, including the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, and Ring magazine titles. Klitschko's boxing prowess was unparalleled.
Known for his exceptional knockout power, he wielded a formidable arsenal, featuring a strong jab, straight right hand, and left hook. His quick hand speed, combined with remarkable footwork and mobility, defied the norm for heavyweight boxers.
While he faced setbacks in his early years, he transformed under the supervision of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, transitioning from an aggressive puncher to a defensively adept boxer. Alongside his brother Vitali Klitschko, he dominated the heavyweight division during the "Klitschko Era" from 2004 to 2015.
His fights commanded a massive global TV audience and his legacy includes records for the longest cumulative heavyweight title reign and the most fighters beaten for the world heavyweight championship. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2021, Klitschko's impact on the sport remains legendary.
Following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, Wladimir Klitschko joined the Kyiv Territorial Defense Brigade, a military reserve component of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Both he and his brother, who has been Mayor of Kyiv since 2014, pledged to fight to protect the capital of Ukraine. Meanwhile, they took advantage of their fame and influence to raise funds for the defense lines and advocate international military support for their country.
The visit to Kurdistan
On October 20, 2011, Wladimir Klitschko arrived in Erbil on a private jet. His visit was organized by prominent Kurdish figure Sarwar Pedawi. During the visit, Klitschko met with President Masoud Barzani and Masrour Barzani, the incumbent prime minister of the KRI who then served as the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.
The official Facebook page of the Klitschko brothers confirmed Wladimir’s visit to Kurdistan in a statement featuring his photograph next to President Masoud Barzani: “In the capital Erbil, Klitschko met president Masoud Barzani. Different topics regarding economy, politics and sports were discussed. During the visit hostilities with the Turkish army were discussed. He expressed his regret and hope that the conflict would be solved diplomatically in the future,” the online statement read.
Saadi Barwari told Kurdistan Chronicle that the Ukrainian champion’s first impression of the Kurdistan Region was uplifting as he did not expect his destination to be a safe region with a fairly developed society.
Klitschko sympathized with the Kurds for the difficulties they have experienced throughout history. Despite his wild spirit in the boxing ring, he has been involved in international charity campaigns since 2002, when he was named UNESCO Champion for Sport. He is among only 15 living athletes that have received this title.
During his meeting with President Barzani, as recalled by Sarwar Bedawi, the Kurdish leader touched upon the historic relations between Kurds and Ukrainians in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In the days following the fall of the Kurdistan Republic in Mahabad, hundreds of peshmerga fighters joined Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani in relocating to the former Soviet Union. Some Kurdish fighters settled in today’s Ukraine and studied, worked, and even married there. This long history, and the fact that there are people in the Kurdistan Region who carry Kurdish-Ukrainian blood in their veins surprised Klitschko. He praised the resilient Kurdish spirit, something that he channels today in his military life.
In Wladimir Klitschko we find a remarkable blend of strength and compassion. His visit to the Kurdistan Region both revealed his appreciation for the region's resilience and foreshadowed his unwavering commitment to humanitarian efforts on a global scale.