He won the NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Today, however, Slava Medvedenko is fighting for something completely different. The Ukrainian takes up arms in the war against Russia. Now he has talked about it.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dramatically changed the lives of the people of Ukraine, leading many people to either flee their homes or take up arms to defend their country. One person who has opted for the latter is former Los Angeles Lakers player Slava Medvedenko.

Medvedenko was born in Kyiv and played basketball for Budivelnik Kyiv and BC Kyiv in his native country. Medvedenko moved to the NBA and was disregarded in the 1998 NBA draft, but was offered a chance with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1999-2000 NBA season.

The former Ukrainian athlete spent six seasons with the Lakers, where he won two championship rings, before starting his final NBA contract with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2006-2007 NBA season.

More than a decade after last playing in the NBA, Medvedenko is now serving in the military to protect his homeland from Russian invasion. Speaking to The Athletic, the former Lakers champion opened up about his experiences during the war.

On February 25, the day after the first bombings, Medvedenko was among 30 volunteers who met for an emergency meeting. Within a week the group had 100 members. Another week later, the number had doubled.

“In three weeks we were actually like a police organization,” he said. “It was probably the best decision of our President (Zelenskyj),” said Medvedenko. “He allowed everyone to have guns.”

Medvedenko watched as his neighbors formed a defense unit. His wife Elena operated a radio.

“The people of Ukraine surprised me,” said Medvedenko. “I’ve seen them band together.”

“I feel like I have to stay in Ukraine and help our country, our nation, understand itself,” he says. “We have to be strong. This is the opportunity to get stronger.”

“Can you imagine that?” he says. “You’re sitting at a checkpoint and you see a big rocket flying overhead?”

On one of the first nights he kept watch, Russian forces fired more than 20 rockets to knock out Ukraine’s radar system.

“We’re almost in the front row of the cinema,” he said. “It was the first time I think the Russians understand that they can’t break through our air defense system.”

Originally translated as “Ukrainian was NBA champion, now he’s fighting in the war: “Russians can’t break through us”” is from OpenCourt-Basketball.