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German climber Alex Megos is perhaps best known for putting down one of the hardest routes in the world, Bibliographie (initially thought to be 5.15d, a grade climbed only once before, but eventually determined to be 5.15c), in Céüse, France, in 2020. The 28-year-old is also a regular on the competitive climbing circuit and one of the most exciting athletes in the sport at the moment. In recent weeks, however, Megos has shifted his focus from training to helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.
“It’s strange to call them refugees, because they’re friends and family,” Megos told Outside. “But they had to leave their home involuntarily, and they are living with us now.” On Wednesday, Megos posted a video on Instagram asking his 365,000 followers for financial support.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Megos and his family have taken in 15 Ukrainians, including his girlfriend—climber Jenya Kazbekova—and her mother and sister. The refugees have moved onto the family’s properties in Erlangen, in Bavaria. While Kazbekova and the other women in her family left their home country on the day of the invasion, her father, like all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60, had to stay back.
“It has impacted Jenya a lot, because obviously while she was coming to Germany in the past, Ukraine was still her home. That’s where she had—still has—her apartment, that’s where she spends at least half of her time,” Megos says. “As a professional climber, her job was and is to focus on climbing, which has been super hard for her. Just to have this worry of loved ones still being in the war area makes it very hard for Jenya to focus on her training and competitions.”
Among the refugees Megos and his family are housing are multiple young climbers and their family members. With housing and food secured, their most immediate needs are bureaucratic: filing paperwork to register everyone with the German government to ensure they all have health insurance, proper documentation, and eventually financial support. Two of the refugees are minors and had to leave the country without their parents, so Megos is in the process of becoming their legal guardian.
“We’ve been in contact with the youth-welfare office, and they visited our place last week to make sure the girls are in good hands. From now on, I’ll be taking care of them, making sure that they go to school, that they’ve got enough to eat. I’ll be signing their papers if anything needs signing and so on. For now it’s going OK, it’ll just take time until everything falls into place and becomes routine.”
Megos is also doing his best to make life as normal as possible for himself and the Ukrainians. His training volume hasn’t dropped significantly (though he says his head and heart aren’t in it), and he’s climbing with the Ukrainians and helping them continue to pursue the sport, too. Part of his goal with fundraising is to hopefully be able to afford to send them to competitions and allow them to keep advancing their athletic careers.
“Loads of the people that came to my house are climbers, and they’re also on the Ukrainian youth national team,” he says. “I want to enable them to go to comps, and if the Ukrainian federation is not able to provide them with enough money to do so, I would like to take care of that. Some of the athletes do still get money from the Ukrainian government for their sporting careers, but that is tied to their results in international comps. Obviously, as a pro climber I don’t have that much money, so the help from the community is very much appreciated.”
The funds will also go to supporting basic needs like food, clothing, and housing. Many refugees are staying in spare apartments and other lodging whose owners would typically be collecting rent, Megos explains, so they’re hoping to help those property owners recoup some of their financial losses, too.
In the meantime, Megos wants the rest of the world to understand that this war isn’t too distant to be of concern. He notes that it could become a much larger conflict, spreading beyond the borders of Ukraine.
“It has the potential to be World War III at some point, if things go sideways,” he says. “In general, lots of climbers haven’t posted anything about the war because they feel like they’re too far away and like there’s nothing they can do, but I wish that athletes would use their platforms more to help people and move things in the right direction. That could be asking people to donate money, that could be offering shelter, offering homes. People from Ukraine at some point will also end up in the U.S. if they have the possibility to, so just making them feel welcome would be good.”