Image: Vitali Klitschko, Ukrainian opposition leader and former world champion boxer

Etienne De Malglaive / Getty Images, file an hour

Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine Opposition Leader Vitali Klitschko in Fight of His Life

The face of the opposition in the Ukraine is a heavyweight boxing champ with a Ph.D who has lost only two fights but is now locked in the battle of his life.

Vitali Klitschko, a 6-foot-7 father of three, is known as Dr. Ironfist for his achievements in the ring and the academic arena.

Once feared for a devastating left jab, the 42-year-old is now landing political blows as head of the Ukranian Democratic Alliance for Reform and the protests that have erupted into deadly clashes in Kiev.

At least one old opponent is in his corner. Lennox Lewis, who defeated Klitschko in a controversial 2003 match, tweeted his support on Wednesday.

Klitschko’s new rival is Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich — and he demanded Yanukovich resign on Wednesday, saying he’s responsible for “murder and terror against peaceful civilians.”

“Blood is shed on the streets of Kiev,” Klitschko said in a video address. “The main reason for this is actions of the authorities. Therefore, people today demand Yanukovich and his government to resign.

“The sooner this happens, the less blood is shed, the faster Ukraine will move to a civilized future for which people has taken to the streets.”

Earlier, he had appeared in Independence Square — after fierce fighting left 26 people, including 10 police officers, dead — to urge demonstrators to hold their ground.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” he told the crowd. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.”

The son of a Soviet pilot and former colonel who launched his boxing career in 1995, Klitschko got involved in politics during an injury-forced temporary retirement. In 2005, he made a bid to become mayor of Kiev — the first of three failed runs for the seat.

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Vitali Klitschko, Sergei Bubka speak out on Ukraine violence

  • February 19 at 9:19 am

Vitali Klitschko, the UDAR (Punch) party head, helps anti-government protesters carry a wounded man. (Yury Kirnichny / AFP Getty Images)

Vitali Klitschko, the UDAR (Punch) party head, helps anti-government protesters carry a wounded man. (Yury Kirnichny / AFP Getty Images)

As protests turned deadly violent Tuesday in Kiev, two of the Ukraine’s more vocal and visible leaders are men who became household names in the world of sports.

Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and the head of the pro-Western Udar opposition party in Ukraine, urged protesters to continue their actions while Sergei Bubka, the former pole-vaulting great, urged peace from the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Klitschko addressed a crowd of about 20,000 Wednesday, telling people to defend their camp even as fires burned around it.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko told the crowd (via the Associated Press) at the main encampment at Independence Square. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.”

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