Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted with assistance from an interpreter.
Yaroslav Amosov drives along a bumpy road from Irpin, his hometown in Ukraine. In an alternate and proper universe, he’d be in London, weighed in and ready to defend his welterweight championship against Michael Page on Friday at Bellator 281.
Instead, Amosov is doing a different kind of defending. He’s made the drive many times before. The tires ride across sacred soil, the land he grew up on. The air is warm with the sun hidden behind an array of clouds. Despite all madness, Amosov remains calm, his signature demeanor during Bellator fight weeks.
“I was relaxing,” Amosov said calmly Thursday while on FaceTime with MMA Junkie. “Everything is well – again, besides the part where a war is going on.”
Amosov isn’t afforded much relaxation these days. Since Feb. 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, his country has been under attack. Amosov ushered his family to safety before he enlisted in the military days later.
Ukraine is a place Amosov is proud of. That’s why he carried blue and yellow every time he graced a cage halfway across the world. That’s why he chose to defend his country over his title. That’s why he chose to fight a different sort of battle than he’s used to.
When he had better conceivable excuses than many countrymen to perhaps opt out, Amosov still decided to stay. He could’ve packed up his bags and moved to his secondary home of Florida for training camp at American Top Team. Representing his country or raising awareness sound like passable reasons, right? That’s not Amosov’s style, so he chose otherwise.
“I did what I wanted to do,” Amosov said as he drove. “Yes, I understood I had a choice of leaving the country to train, but I don’t consider myself anyone special. I am just a regular citizen of this country as all the other guys that are at war right now.”
Recounting horrors of war
Unarmed combat is something Amosov is used to. War is an entirely different for the 28-year-old. Like many young Ukrainian men, the past two months have been the first time he’s worn a uniform and picked up a weapon for combat.
“During war, I was asking the guys on how to properly clean a gun,” Amosov said, with a smile.
Eleven weeks into battle, Amosov isn’t thinking about Friday’s Bellator 281 fight between Page and Logan Storley for an interim title in his absence, no. It’s an afterthought that’s tabled like so many others. Life is different, and more than that, he’s adjusted to it.
People liked to refer to the “new normal” during COVID-19 restrictions or whatever else? Well, this is Amosov’s new normal. War is a way of life. It’s second nature.
People around the world have put Amosov on a pedestal. His bravery is recognized at every opportunity by people across the world, but that doesn’t mean his courage masks his hurt. The landmarks he once knew are in pieces, or aren’t there at all from Russian bombings. People have died. Amosov has seen it first hand. It’s harrowing and haunting.
“It’s hard to watch when people are running, how they were running from their houses just wanting to live,” Amosov said. “It’s hard to look at kids, wounded people, elderly. It is hard to look at your city when it is on fire, and there is smoke everywhere. It is very hard to look at those moments because you understand that you grew up in this city. It is your native city. I think it’s even harder to look at. It’s painful to watch someone else’s pain.”
“… A lot of houses took immense damage. I can’t really tell how much, but there are a lot of (damaged houses) and a lot of houses that are destroyed. There are also houses that we can say without serious destruction, but some fragments flew into the house. Practically, most of the houses are missing windows. In the current moment, people are changing the windows, but when everything was going on, windows got destroyed and all those windows were laying everywhere. A lot of stuff was laying everywhere.”
‘Most important thing is for the war to stop here’
Throughout the duration of his nearly three-month stint as a member of the Ukrainian military, there have been more downs than ups. But as it stands, the healing process has begun. Things are getting slightly better by day – a good sign, though not necessarily a permanent one.
“On our side, in the current moment, there is no battle action going on,” Amosov said. “The life is slowly coming back. People are coming back. The stores are opening up. But at the same time, there is a lot of broken down military equipment and destroyed houses, and it all reminds us that we are still in the middle of war. At the beginning, it seemed like something surreal, but gradually I am getting used to it. … Right now, it is gradually coming back to its previous times, but all these destructions that you can see in the city still remind you of what was going on here literally not that long ago, and it is hard to look at.”
Things will never be the same. One thing will forever remain true, however. Through rubble and ash, death and destruction, Amosov and others will remain proud to be Ukrainian.
“The most important is for the war to stop here,” Amosov said. “The fact that there will be destruction here or anything else, it is still the best country for us and the most beautiful.”