Wladimir Klitschko, 45, is determined to protect his native country Ukraine from the wrath of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former professional boxer, who was previously engaged to actress Hayden Panettiere, 32, condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine in a passionate statement that he shared online February 24. “We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy. You can also act. Let not fear seize us; let’s not remain frozen,” he said. “Putin shoots at Ukrainian cities, but he aims at our hearts and, more importantly, at our minds. He wants to create doubt and confusion and thus inaction.”
Wladimir also pledged that he will be fighting against Russian troops. He reportedly enlisted in Ukraine’s reserve army in the capitol Kyiv when Russia was first threatening to invade Ukraine. Here are five key things to know about Wladimir and his former relationship with Hayden.
1. Wladimir is Ukrainian.
Wladimir was born on March 25, 1976 in Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. His father Vladimir Rodionovic was a Soviet Air Force major general who was involved in the clean-up efforts of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Wladimir got his PhD in sports science, but decided to pursue a career in pro boxing.
2. He’s a professional boxer.
Wladimir is a legend in the boxing world. He has two heavyweight champion titles. He represented Ukraine at the 1996 Olympics and won a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division. He and his brother Vitali Klitschko, who is also a boxer, dominated heavyweight boxing from 2004 to 2015 during the “Klitschko Era.” Wladimir retired in August 2017, ending his professional career with 64 wins out of 69 total fights. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2021.
3. His brother is a politician.
Vitali Klitschko, 50, isn’t just a former pro boxer. He’s also the current mayor of Kyiv, the capitol of Ukraine. He’s held that position since November 2015. Vitali is a member of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, and strongly opposes being under Russia’s rule. Like his brother, Vitali has pledged to take up arms to defend Kyiv from Putin’s troops.
4. He had an on-off relationship with Hayden.
Wladimir started dating Hayden in 2009, after the pair met at a book launch for mutual friend Diana Jenkins. They split in 2011 due to long distance, only to get back together in early 2013. Wladimir and Hayden got engaged in October 2013, and the following December, the Heroes actress gave birth to their first child, daughter Kaya Evdokia Klitschko. They split for good in 2018. Not long after, Hayden moved on with Brian Hickerson, who she’s no longer dating.
Following Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Hayden posted a message of support to Ukraine on Instagram. “What Putin is doing is an absolute disgrace! This horrific moment in history sends a terrifying message: the message that in this day and age, in year 2022, it’s okay to violate the rights of free people and allow autocrats like Putin to take whatever they please,” the actress wrote. “I’m praying for my family and friends there and everyone who’s fighting. I wish you had more support and I wish I was there fighting with you!”
5. He’s a father.
Wladimir and Hayden’s daughter Kaya is now 7 years old. A report from a few years ago claimed that Hayden didn’t have a relationship with her daughter, and that she lived in Ukraine with her father. However, the Nashville alum denied this. When Kaya turned 6 in Dec. 2020, Hayden posted her daughter’s lavish birthday cake on social media, alongside a sweet message. “6 years ago today, I met the most amazing (not so little anymore) creature,” Hayden wrote, adding, “[I] Can’t believe my baby girl is getting so big!”
After Hayden posted her support of Ukraine on Instagram, she confirmed in the comments section that her daughter is “safe and not in Ukraine,” where Wladimir is.