Wrestler Zhan Beleniuk of Ukraine was the only member of his team to win a gold medal in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, but his return home was anything but cordial.
In the 87-kilogram Greco-Roman wrestling event, Beleniuk won gold. The victory was a personal milestone for Beleniuk, who had previously won silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
However, on Aug. 13, the 30-year-old admitted on Facebook that despite his golden award, he was still subjected to racial assaults. Below is a translation of Beleniuk’s lengthy post from his original Ukrainian.
“A few minutes ago, unknown young men approached me in the center of Kiev (Pechersk) and attempted to start a fight! yelling obscenities such as ′′black monkey knows something about patriotism?!” and ′′go to Africa!” I’m fine because it didn’t come to a fight, but…
1. I’m not sure if I’m Ukrainian for my country, and if so, what are the patriotism criteria there?!
2. Can the Olympic champion feel safe in his own country and hometown?!
3. Is it normal in a European state to hear offensive things from people who stake their lives on the glorification of the state?!”
Beleniuk, whose mother is Ukrainian and father is Rwandan, made history two years ago when he joined President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People Party and became Ukraine’s first Black member of Parliament. Beleniuk was raised by his mother and grandmother in Ukraine and never met his father, who died in Rwanda before he was born. His fellow Ukrainians, who appreciate the transformation Beleniuk represents for his nation, sent him words of solidarity, criticizing the racial ignorance he encountered.
“What a bunch of savages!” Oh my god, what a disgrace.”
“I am glad to have people like you in our nation; the vast majority of patriots are sincere and intelligent.”
“You are a source of pride for us!” I’m so proud of you! I hope that as a result of your petition, the National Police officers will do a check, identify the culprits, and analyze his situation properly! I believe that this heinous case will strengthen you, and that we will become even more friendly and unified as a result.”
The two-time world champion and three-time European champion confirmed that the letters of support had been received, adding that the verbal abuse directed at him by a few would not discourage him from loving his homeland.
Later that day, he added, “Everything is well with me!” “I like my country; it has given me everything I have, and no one can force me to leave, and inadequacy exists everywhere! They just get in the way now and then.”
Despite the statements made by his verbal assailants, Oleksander Pastukhov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Federation of Greco-Roman and Sports Wrestling, stated that “Beleniuk is our hero, this is a provocation,” and that “he is a patriot, he is a real Ukrainian.”