Kyiv – Slava Medvedenko is a former basketball star who helped deliver two NBA championships during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. But when Russia invaded his homeland, like many other Ukrainians, he took up a gun.
Having witnessed firsthand the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine’s youth, MedvedenkoThe proceeds were used to provide counseling and sports opportunities to the children.
Among his millions of fans, nothing matters to the Ukrainian player more than the people at home in Kyiv who, like him, now live in a war zone.
For a happy moment, for the kids who received some new basketballs from the Los Angeles Lakers, the war has stopped, and they are playing the game they love.
“They kind of forgot there was a war,” the NBA star said, watching them on the court and calling it a kind of “therapy” for the kids.
But suddenly, war started approaching. When Russian forces hit Ukraine’s power grid with a barrage of missile strikes this week, the lights above the courthouse were turned off.
Undeterred, the children attacked essential services in their country, quickly turning on the lights of their mobile phones and continuing with the training session.
All of this is painfully familiar to Medvedenko, which is why he chose to quit basketball and pick up an assault rifle to join the fight against the invasion.
“I made a decision to stay in Kyiv,” he told CBS News. “Everything I can do to defend my city.”
He said he saw the streets of his city strewn with cars riddled with bullet holes, some with still bodies of dead civilians inside. One of the cars, he said, was written in large script, clearly indicating that there were children inside.
“But the Russians are still shooting and shooting at their cars,” he said. “That was scary.”
Medvedenko said it was that moment when he fully realized what really mattered in life: people, not possessions. Not even the precious NBA championship rings.
He said the decision came quickly: “I have to sell my rings and help my country.”
So he put them up for auction online, hoping they’d fetch six figures together. But each of them, individually, made more than a quarter of a million dollars—a record for NBA championship rings.
It made him very happy, Medvedenko told CBS News: “We can spend more money on kids, help more kids!”
Through the charity he co-founded with a Ukrainian sports journalist, The Fly High CorporationMedvedenko helped repair shattered windows and basketball courts in schools destroyed by Russian artillery, and sent children to basketball camps.
We asked him which he found more useful, winning championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or helping the kids in Kyiv.
“They are two different worlds,” he said, describing his younger years with the NBA as a dream come true. “Now I’m more mature, and I think it’s different. I think helping my country, it’s more important.”
Now Medvedenko has a new dream: “to have free, healthy and independent Ukrainians.”