Kyiv – Slava Medvedenko is a former basketball star who helped win two NBA championships while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. But when Russia invaded his homeland, like many other Ukrainians, he took up arms.

Having been an eyewitness to the impact of the Russian war on the youth of Ukraine, Medvedenko sold his precious championship rings and used the proceeds to provide counseling and sports opportunities for children.

Of his millions of fans, none matter more to the Ukrainian footballer than the people in Kiev who, like him, now live in a war zone.

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Slava Medvedenko plays basketball with a young boy in Ukraine

For one blissful moment, for the kids who picked up new balls from the LA Lakers, the war was over and they could play the game they love.

“They kind of forget that it’s a war,” said the NBA star, watching them on the court and calling it a kind of “therapy” for the kids.

But suddenly the war came. When Russian forces hit the Ukrainian power grid with a series of missile att*cks this week, the lights over the court went out.

Undeterred by the att*ck on essential services in their country, the children quickly turned on the lights on their mobile phones and continued their training session.

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Training in a dark Ukrainian gym by the light of mobile phones.

Medvedev is all painfully familiar, and that’s why he’s decided to put his basketball aside and grab his assault rifle to join the fight against the invasion.

“I made the decision to stay in Kiev,” he told CBS News. “Whatever I can do to defend my city.”

He said he saw the streets of his hometown littered with bullet-riddled cars, some of which still had the bodies of dead civilians. He said one car was scrawled in large letters, clearly declaring that there were children inside.

“But the Russians are still shooting, shooting at their cars,” he said. “It was scary.”

It was that moment, Medvedenko said, when he fully understood what really mattered in life: people, not things. Even his precious NBA championship rings.

He said the decision was made quickly: “I need to sell my rings and help my country.”

So he put them up for auction online, hoping that together they would reach six figures. But each of them individually earned more than a quarter of a million dollars – a record for NBA championship rings.

Medvedenko told CBS News that it made him very happy: “We can spend more money on children and help more children!”

Through a charity he co-founded with Ukrainian sports journalist, The Fly High FoundationMedvedenko helped repair broken windows and basketball courts at schools that had been destroyed by Russian artillery, and sent children to basketball camps.

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Los Angeles Lakers defenseman Devean George (3) helps separate forward Slava Medvedenko (right) and Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace during a confrontation in the third quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Auburn Hills, Michigan in a June 13, 2004 file photo .

AP/PAUL SANCYA


We asked him what he finds more satisfying, winning championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or helping kids in Kiev.

“They’re two different worlds,” he said, describing his younger years in the NBA as a dream come true. “Now I am more mature and think differently. I think helping my country is more important.”

Now Medvedenko has a new dream: “May Ukrainians be free, healthy and independent.”

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