A Ukrainian kickboxing champion was killed while fighting Russian forces in Mariupol.
Maksym Kagal, 30, reportedly died while defending the besieged southern Ukrainian city, which has been subject to constant bombardment since the Russian invasion began last month. His death was later confirmed by his coach, Oleg Skirta.
“Unfortunately, the war takes the best. On 25 March, while defending the city of Mariupol as part of the Azov Separate Special Forces Unit, Maksym ‘Piston’ Kagal died,” Skirta said in a statement on Facebook. “Kagal was the first world kickboxing champion from the glorious city of Kremenchug, the first world champion among adults in the team of Ukraine, and just an honest and decent person.”
The Azov regiment is a far-right former paramilitary group that was upgraded to a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion in February. The group was initially a volunteer militia that formed in May 2014 to fight the Russian separatist forces who had seized portions of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The group has been criticized for propagating neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideologies, and has also been accused of violating international humanitarian law by the United Nations.
While the Azov regiment does maintain connections to neo-Nazism, the group is at the heart of the Kremlin’s wartime propaganda. Their role in Ukraine has been greatly exaggerated by Russian state media to support the ongoing war, as well as to back up Russian president Vladimir Putin’s goal of “denazification” in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used the Azovs presence to justify the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol, claiming that the regiment was hiding in the building. Russia has since continued its assault on Mariupol, where more than 5000 people, including roughly 210 children, have been killed so far. The city’s infrastructure has also been annihilated, with more than 90 percent of buildings being damaged or destroyed.
Among those killed was Kagal, a resident of Kremenchug who won the World Kickboxing Championship ISKA in 2014. One of the few pictures available of the fighter show him holding up a Ukrainian flag with the Azov logo and a Black Sun. The symbol, which is also known as the sonnerad, is synonymous with far-right groups that traffic in neo-Nazi ideologies. The symbol is based on the ancient sun wheel artifacts that were used by Norse and Germanic tribes as symbols of pagan beliefs. Those ancient symbols resemble the complex symbol of the contemporary Black Sun, which was coopted by Heinrich Himmler, the main architect of the Holocaust.