Kyiv — Slava Medvedenko is a former basketball star who assisted in two NBA championships while with the Los Angeles Lakers. But when Russia invaded his homeland, like so many other Ukrainians, he took up arms.
Medvedenko witnessed firsthand the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine’s youthand used the proceeds to provide counseling and sports opportunities to children.
Of his millions of fans, none is more important to the Ukrainian baller than the people back home in Kyiv, who now like him live in a war zone.
For the kids who received new basketballs from the LA Lakers, the war stopped for a blissful moment and they got to play the game they love.
“They kind of forget there’s a war,” the NBA star said, watching her on the court and calling it a kind of “therapy” for the kids.
But suddenly the war broke out. As Russian forces slammed into Ukraine’s power grid with a barrage of rocket attacks this week, the lights went out over the courthouse.
Undeterred by the attack on their country’s basic services, the children quickly switched on their cell phone lights and continued the training session.
All of this is painfully familiar to Medvedenko, which is why he has decided to put down his basketball and pick up an assault rifle to join the fight against the invasion.
“I’ve decided to stay in Kyiv,” he told CBS News. “What I can do to defend my city.”
He said he saw the streets of his hometown littered with cars riddled with bullet holes, some of them with the bodies of killed civilians still stuck inside. He said one car had been scrawled with large writing clearly explaining that there were children inside.
“But the Russians are still shooting, shooting at their cars,” he said. “That was terrifying.”
It was that moment, said Medvedenko, when he understood what really matters in life: people, not possessions. Not even his prized NBA championship rings.
He said the decision was made quickly: “I have to sell my rings and help my country.”
So he put them up for auction online, hoping that together they would fetch a six-figure sum. But each of them has individually earned more than a quarter million dollars – a record for NBA championship rings.
Medvedenko told CBS News that this made him very happy: “We can spend more money on the children and help more children!”
Through the Fly High Foundation charity he co-founded with a Ukrainian sportswriter, Medvedenko has helped fix broken windows and basketball courts in schools destroyed by Russian artillery and sent children to basketball camps.
We asked him what he found more rewarding, winning championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal or helping the kids in Kyiv.
“It’s two different worlds,” he said, describing his early years in the NBA as a dream come true. “Now I’m more mature and I think differently. I think helping my country is more important.”
Now Medvedenko has a new dream: “To make Ukrainians free, healthy and independent.”