Former Russian international footballer Igor Denisov has said he fears for his life after criticising his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I don’t know, maybe for these words they will put me in prison or kill me, but I tell you the facts,” the 38-year-old said in an interview broadcast on YouTube.
“For me, it was not even a shock but a horror .. a disaster,” he continued of his initial reaction on hearing of the invasion.
One of the rare Russian sporting figures to speak out against the war, Denisov insisted he “loves (his) country” and does not intend to leave Russia.
Russian authorities have introduced a law providing for up to 15 years in prison for any publication of information about the army deemed false, including the simple fact of using “war” or “invasion” to describe the conflict in Ukraine, which Denisov appeared to be doing in his interview, the words of which are then replaced by a crackle in the audio.
“I want everything to be good and peaceful here,” continued the former Zenit Saint Petersburg midfielder who revealed he wrote to President Vladimir Putin asking him to stop the military operation.
“I told him: ‘I am ready to kneel in front of you’”, he said.
Denisov spent most of his career at Zenit and Lokomotiv Moscow, where he played until 2019.
He was capped 54 times for Russia, including a spell as captain.
Already in January 2021 he spoke out in favour of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Few Russian athletes have criticised the invasion of Ukraine, although on the first day of the operation, footballer Fedor Smolov posted a message on Instagram expressing his opposition.