Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov has spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and says he and other Russian NHL players couldn’t come to an agreement on what to say about it.
Zadorov told reporters Friday in Calgary that he can’t return to Russia as long as Vladimir Putin is president and that his parents in Russia don’t share his views.
“I think it’s important for me to speak personally,” Zadorov said. “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.”
The defenceman said in Russian in a YouTube interview with English subtitles posted this week that NHL players from his country communicated in a group digital chat after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and couldn’t agree on what to say.
Zadorov told interviewer Yury Dod that Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky started the discussion that ended without a united message.
“We had a group chat. It went two different directions,” Zadorov said Friday in Calgary. “Some guys were against, some guys for.
“I’m not going to bring names because we’re playing in the same league and I don’t think it’s a right way to do, but there’s a lot of young kids thinking the way I think.
“They just don’t have a voice to speak out like this, but now hopefully they can feel the support from me.”
The 28-year-old Zadorov is from Moscow, but makes his off-season home in Miami where the interview with Dod was conducted.
The six-foot-six, 248-pound defender joined the Flames in 2021, following one season with Chicago Blackhawks and five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. He entered the NHL in 2013 as a first round draft pick (16th overall) for the Buffalo Sabres.
Within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zadorov posted “No War” on his Instagram account.
He told Dod: “I believe that the last 23 years in our country with this president, and nine years before him, I hope this all comes to an end. I hope that Russia becomes a democratic country with a strong economy. Not a kleptocracy.
“All our industries went back in time because of this war, hockey, economics, culture. I’m sorry for the young guys. Instead of raising the new generation, we sent them to die.”
Zadorov said he’s received international feedback since the YouTube interview was posted.
“The past two days I got a lot of DMs, a lot of messages, from Russian people, Ukrainian people, a lot from Czech Republic now, Finland, Sweden, all over Europe,” he said in Calgary.
“In my Instagram, 99 per cent of my messages are positive. I know Russia has a bot system and it takes them two, three days to send some negative reviews, so I’m expecting them to come to my page too.”
A 'very brave' comment
David Marples, a professor of eastern European history at the University of Alberta, called Zadorov’s comments “very brave.”
“In a very real sense, he’s now cutting off his chances of ever going back to his homeland as long as this regime is in power and led by Vladimir Putin,” Marples told Global News. “In other words, if he goes back now, he would almost certainly be arrested and probably serve a long prison sentence.”
Former Russian sportswriter Slava Malamud commended Zadorov for speaking up, but admits he’s surprised the towering defenceman didn’t do it sooner.
“He is one of the people who has always been interested in reaching out and listening to alternative news sources, (other) than those provided by a Russian state media,” Malamud said.
He covered Zadorov when he was a member of the Buffalo Sabres nearly a decade ago.
“(Zadorov) does not unquestioningly consume Russian propaganda, so I knew that he was one of the people who would have that type of mindset and he has made it known before when he liked Instagram posts in support of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny.”
However, as beloved as ‘Big Z’ has become in Calgary, Malamud notes he’s probably not a big enough name in Russia to cause shockwaves with his comments.
For players like Artemi Panarin, it appears to be a different case.
In 2021, the New York Rangers winger took a leave of absence from the NHL after sources in Russia alleged he beat up an 18-year-old woman in 2011.
Panarin denied the assault ever occurred, while the Rangers suggested the accusations were retaliation for Panarin’s pro-Navalny social media posts.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” a Rangers statement said at the time. “This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events.”
Malamud believes strong words from a young superstar could carry more sway, but the biggest Russian names in the game won’t be piping up.
“(Alexander) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin and maybe one or two more guys are national celebrities,” he said. “Something said by them carries a whole lot of weight.
“I want people to understand that yes, it is possible for them to speak out. Yes, it is possible for them to understand what’s happening and to take the high moral ground, take the moral position. It’s not that they’re terrified and their families being held hostage.
“People always have a choice.”
Malamud said he hopes to see the conversation around the war’s impact on sports focus on Ukrainian victims and destroyed facilities.
–with files from The Canadian Press