A Ukrainian wrestler who won his country’s only gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics said he was racially abused in the street after returning from the games. 30-year-old Zhan Beleniuk won the Greco-Roman middleweight gold by beating Hungary’s Viktor Lorincz in the final. Beleniuk, who took home a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, was congratulated by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy after his victory at the Tokyo Games.
But in a Facebook post on August 13, the two-time world wrestling champion said he was verbally attacked in the street by some unknown young persons when he returned home from the games. His post is translated below from Beleniuk’s native Ukrainian.
“A few minutes ago, young men unknown to me, approached me in the center of Kiev (Pechersk), tried to provoke a conflict! Shouting out abusive things like ′black monkey knows something about patriotism?!’ and ‘go to Africa!”. Thank God it didn’t come to the fight so I’m okay…”
Beleniuk said he began wondering “if I am a Ukrainian for my state, what criteria of patriotism exists in it?!” adding, “How can an Olympic champion feel safe in his homeland and in his hometown?!”
Growing up in Ukraine, he was raised by his mother and grandmother. His father was killed in Rwanda before he was born.
Following his recent Facebook post, the Olympian has received messages of support. “The Ukrainian anthem played at the Olympics @Tokyo2020 thanks to #ZhanBeleniuk! He is one of the most worthy sons of Ukraine, our people are proud of him!” Zelenskiy tweeted.
“And any manifestations of racism or xenophobia in Ukraine are unacceptable! The police must respond harshly to such cases and stop them.”
Oleksander Pastukhov, a spokesperson of the Ukrainian Federation of Greco-Roman and Sports Wrestling, also stated that “Beleniuk is our hero, this is a provocation,” adding that “he is a patriot, he is a real Ukrainian.”
The police in the country have begun an investigation.