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Tributes paid to ex-Ukraine captain killed in the war with Russia

By Liam Heagney
Oleksi Tsibko, Ukraine (Photo via Octavian Morariu, Linkedin)

Oleksi Tsibko, a former skipper of the Ukraine national team who went on to become his country’s rugby union president, has been killed at the age of 55 in the fighting for his country against the Russians. Octavian Morariu, the president of Rugby Europe and a member of the International Olympic Committee, confirmed the tragic news in a post on his Linkedin page.

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“Even though I hoped that this news won’t be confirmed, unfortunately, I can now sadly say that Oleksi Tsibko, former captain of the Ukrainian national team, former president of the Ukrainian Rugby Union (2003-2005) and also Mayor of Smela City (2015-2018) died defending his town and his country. May he rest in peace and be always remembered,” wrote Morariu.

The development ignited a huge online reaction, with World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont leading the tributes. He wrote on Twitter: “Our thoughts are with the Ukraine rugby family who are facing such incredible challenges at present. We also remember those who have been victims of the recent violence, including former union president Oleksii Tsibko.

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“We stand with Ukraine in condemning this needless violence and will continue to offer solidarity and friendship.”

Tsibko wasn’t alone in the rugby fraternity in Ukraine taking up arms to defend their country. Last month, Morariu posted about Giorgi Dzhangirian, another former president of the Ukrainian rugby union, defending his county at the age of 83. He posted a picture courtesy of the Sokil Rugby Club in Lviv of Dzhangirian on patrol.

Even Dimitri Basilaia, the scorer of a try for Georgia against England at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, has been helping the fight for Ukraine. The ex-Edinburgh and Perpignan back-rower had been living in Kyiv in recent years, setting up businesses and coaching rugby locally.

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Rather than leave the city when it was under siege, Basilaia, the 36-year-old veteran of 38 caps for Georgia, worked away daily in his restaurant to provide food for people in a time of crisis.

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