Flames' Zadorov explains decision to speak out against invasion of Ukraine
Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov knows he likely can’t go back home to Russia anytime soon.
The 28-year-old blueliner, who was born in Moscow and has represented Russia internationally in the past, is the only NHLer to publicly speak out against the country’s invasion of Ukraine. He initially posted a photo to Instagram with the phrase “No War” on Feb. 25, 2022, a day after Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion.
Zadorov didn’t speak to reporters about the issue until this week, after his wide-ranging interview with Russian journalist Yury Dud was published. In the two-hour conversation, he gave candid thoughts on the invasion.
“Instead of raising the new generation [of Russians], we sent them to die,” Zadorov told Dud.
Zadorov also spoke to Dud about Putin’s government, and an attempt to collaborate with other Russian NHLers on a joint statement denouncing the war.
“I probably can’t go back [to Russia] anytime soon until Putin isn’t the president or that regime is [no longer] there,” he told Calgary reporters on Friday. “So, I can’t go back to my home country, but Florida is home for me now.”
Zadorov said his parents remain in Russia and support Putin.
“They’re on the other side of the views,” he said, candidly.
Zadorov sought the advice of his agent, Dan Milstein, his wife, and the NHLPA before going public with his views.
“When Yury called me in the summer in July, I had a long discussion with my wife and my agent,” he said. “We weighed all the plusses and minuses and I prepared myself for the interview…I think it’s important for me to speak personally. I think, hopefully, I can change something in this world. It just sucks what’s going on over there right now. I think it’s just important to be vocal.”
According to Zadorov, Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky convened Russian NHLers together in a group chat to try and put out a public statement, but one never materialized.
Zadorov declined to elaborate on who was in the chat. Several NHLers, including Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin, have publicly supported Putin in the past. Zadorov said the NHLers in that group chat ultimately could not agree on the wording of a statement, so one was never released.
“It went two different directions,” Zadorov said. “Some guys were against [the war], some guys for [the war]. Not going to give names, obviously, because we play in the same league.”
Ovechkin has largely refrained from speaking about the invasion or his relationship with Putin. His current Instagram profile picture is of him and the Russian president together.
On Feb. 25, 2022, the same day Zadorov posted on Instagram, Ovechkin spoke to reporters.
“Like, I’m Russian, right?” he responded, when asked if he supported the invasion. “It’s not in my hands…I hope it’s going to end soon and there’s going to be peace in both countries.”
The day prior, the Calgary Flames had lost 7-1 in Vancouver to the Canucks. Zadorov’s thoughts, however, were far from the rink.
“You can ask the guys in the room here when, February 24, two years ago, it was a game day,” he reflected on Friday. “It sucks waking up with the horrible news. Definitely there was a lot of things in [my] head, preparing for the game. Obviously, you can go on the ice and put all the things away and play hockey, enjoy what you do. That definitely helps.”
So far, the reaction to Zadorov’s comments to Dud has been positive. But he knows that Russia might react.
“The past few days, I’ve gotten a lot of DMs, a lot of messages from Russian people, Ukrainian people, Belarusian, a lot from the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, all over Europe,” he said.
“People have been showing great support. On my Instagram, there’s like 99.99 per cent of the messages are positive. I know Russia has a bot system and it takes them two, three days to send negative reviews, so I’m expecting some of them to come to my page too.”
While Zadorov said on Friday he doesn’t wish to discuss the invasion further beyond this week’s comments, he hopes that his words have an impact well into the future.
“There’s a lot of young kids thinking the way I think,” Zadorov said. “They just don’t have a voice to speak out like this. Now, hopefully, they can feel the support from me.”