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Who Is Wladimir Klitschko, the Champion Boxer Turned Ukrainian Soldier Co-Parenting with Hayden Panettiere?

Wladimir Klitschko and Hayden Panettiere attend The Daily Front Row and Faena Art Celebrate the Launch of The Daily's Miami Edition, Featuring Act One at The Faena Art Dome on November 29, 2016 in Miami Beach, FL
Wladimir Klitschko and Hayden Panettiere attend The Daily Front Row and Faena Art Celebrate the Launch of The Daily's Miami Edition, Featuring Act One at The Faena Art Dome on November 29, 2016 in Miami Beach, FL

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Wladimir Klitschko and Hayden Panettiere in 2016

Hayden Panettiere's ex Wladimir Klitschko is back in the headlines after the actress revealed she didn't know that her daughter, Kaya, would be moving to Ukraine with her father until it had already happened.

Panettiere, 33, made the admission on a new episode of Facebook Watch's Red Table Talk, telling the hosts: "[Kaya] was almost 3 and it wasn't fully my decision. In fact, I didn't even know it was happening until she was already over there."

The actress, who has been public about her battle with addiction, added that the plan was for her to work on herself before she saw Kaya.

"I thought she was going over to visit him like she always did," the actress said. "[Kaya] would go back and forth from me in Nashville and Ukraine, and then once she was over there, it was immediately, 'I want full custody of her,' which was a shock to me."

She continued: "It was very upsetting signing those papers to give him full custody. It was like the most heartbreaking thing I've ever, ever had to do in my life. In a country where her uncle [Vitali Klitschko] is the mayor [of Kyiv] and they are icons over there, it's a country where it's very male-dominated. There wasn't a heck of a lot I could do."

Here's more about Kaya's dad, 46-year-old Wladimir Klitschko, who is currently fighting in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

Anthony Joshua (White Shorts) and Wladimir Klitschko (Gray Shorts) in action during the IBF, WBA and IBO Heavyweight World Title bout at Wembley Stadium on April 29, 2017 in London, England.
Anthony Joshua (White Shorts) and Wladimir Klitschko (Gray Shorts) in action during the IBF, WBA and IBO Heavyweight World Title bout at Wembley Stadium on April 29, 2017 in London, England.

Richard Heathcote/Getty

Klitschko and His Politician Brother Were Heavyweight Boxing Champions

Klitschko was born in 1976 in modern-day Kazakhstan, and began training to become a boxer at an early age. He and his older brother, Vitali, quickly became standouts in their amateur boxing bubble.

Shortly before starting his professional boxing career, Klitschko rose to prominence in the 1996 Summer Olympics when he won a gold medal for Ukraine in the super-heavyweight division.

During his professional career, which lasted until 2017, Klitschko twice reigned as the world heavyweight champion. Vitali also won world championships before turning to politics, now leading a political party in Ukraine and serving as mayor of its capital city, Kyiv.

RELATED: Ukrainian Boxers Take Up Arms Against Russia in Fight of Their Lives: 'I Don't Have Another Choice'

Hayden Panettiere (R) and professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko arrive at the 2011 InStyle/Warner Brothers Golden Globes Party at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California
Hayden Panettiere (R) and professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko arrive at the 2011 InStyle/Warner Brothers Golden Globes Party at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Klitschko Met Panettiere at a Party in 2008 and They Later Became Engaged

Panettiere and Klitschko — a 6-foot-6-inch Ukrainian boxer who was formerly the heavyweight champion of the world — met at a mutual friend's party in 2008 before dating on and off for nine years.

In an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2013, Panettiere recounted the first time she met her eventual fiancé. Though she was in a relationship at the time, Panettiere said she made the first move, at least in conversation, by saying to him, "You're huge," to which he responded, "You're tiny."

The two announced their engagement in 2013 and had a daughter together, Kaya Evdokia Klitschko, in December 2014.

Panettiere and Klitschko shared photos of their new family with PEOPLE shortly after the birth, showing intimate moments between the new parents and their baby girl.

"He is just so over the moon," Panettiere said of Klitschko at the time. "I'm lucky if I can get my hands on the kid. He's like, 'No, no, I got her.' Which is exactly what I thought he would be like."

RELATED: Hayden Panettiere and Wladimir Klitschko's Relationship Timeline

hayden-p
hayden-p

Source Hayden Panettiere/Instagram

The Couple Split Up in 2018, and Their Daughter Moved With Him to Ukraine

In August 2018, after Panettiere was photographed holding hands with Brian Hickerson at a Los Angeles restaurant, her mother confirmed that the Heroes actress had split from Klitschko in an interview with RadarOnline.

Following the split, Klitschko and Kaya moved to Ukraine and nearly a year later, a source told PEOPLE the actress's "life is in flux with her daughter living away, and she has other issues weighing on her mind."

Panettiere continued to see her daughter regularly, though, traveling on vacations with Klitschko and their Kaya.

The couple appeared to be on good terms in recent months and years. In a 2021 Instagram post on his birthday, Panettiere even called her ex a "wonderful man" and has reposted his updates from Ukraine more recently.

RELATED: Hayden Panettiere Says 'Friends and Family Are Desperately Trying to Defend Their Way of Life' in Ukraine

Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko

ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images From left: Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine, and his brother, Wladimir Klitschko, walk in front of a destroyed apartment building amid the Russian invasion

Klitschko Is a Vocal Activist for (and Literal Defender of) Ukrainian Freedom

Klitschko has been a vocal activist for his home country for years, even visiting Ukraine with Panettiere to voice their support for protestors in November 2013.

"Your fight is not falling on deaf ears," Panettiere told the assembled crowd at the time. "The world will hear you. And as an American I want you to know that I stand by you, I support your fight, and I will support it until the country of Ukraine in its entirety reflects the beauty, the true beauty of Ukrainian people. Keep fighting. I love you all."

Klitschko has been fighting for his country in the war against Russia since Vladimir Putin began the invasion earlier this year. Klitschko's brother Vitaly has been the mayor of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv since 2014, and the two have been frequently pictured together throughout the war.

And while Klitschko has been fighting, Kaya is safe outside Ukraine, according to a comment Panettiere made on Instagram earlier this year.

RELATED: Wladimir Klitschko, Boxing Champion-Turned-Ukraine Defender, Says, 'This Is the Fight of My Life'

Speaking to PEOPLE for a June 2022 cover story, Panettiere spoke candidly about battling an addiction to opioids and alcohol along with a bout of postpartum depression.

"I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn't want to spend any time with her," Panettiere recalled, adding that the addiction impacted her relationship with Klitschko, as well.

"He didn't want to be around me," she said. "I didn't want to be around me. But with the opiates and alcohol I was doing anything to make me feel happy for a moment. Then I'd feel worse than I did before. I was in a cycle of self-destruction."

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Panettiere also gave PEOPLE an update on her relationship with Kaya, saying that allowing her daughter to move to Ukraine with Klitschko was "the hardest thing I could do."

She continued: "But the best thing for my daughter was to make sure she was okay, take care of myself and make sure I could be a good mom to her. And sometimes that means letting go."