‘Go to Africa’: how Ukrainian, who won his country’s only gold medal in Tokyo, was ‘racially assaulted’

A Ukrainian wrestler who won his country’s only gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics said he suffered racial violence on the streets after returning from the games. Zhan Beleniuk, 30, won the Greco-Roman middleweight gold medal by beating Hungary’s Viktor Lorincz in the final. Beleniuk, who won 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 assaulted in the streets by unknown youths upon his return from matches. His post is translated below from the native Ukrainian of Beleniuk.

“A few minutes ago, young people unknown to me approached me in the center of Kiev (Pechersk), tried to provoke a conflict! Yelling abusive things like “does the black monkey know anything about patriotism ?!” and ‘Go to Africa!’. Thank goodness it didn’t come in battle, so I’m fine… ”

Beleniuk said he was starting to wonder “if I am a Ukrainian for my state, what criteria of patriotism exist there?” Adding: “How can an Olympic champion feel safe in his homeland and in his hometown ?!

The wrestler, born to a Ukrainian mother and Rwandan father, became Ukraine’s first black lawmaker in 2019 when he entered parliament for President Zelenskiy’s People’s Servant Party.

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 post on Facebook, the Olympian has received messages of support. “The Ukrainian anthem played at the @ Tokyo2020 Olympics thanks to #ZhanBeleniuk! He is one of the most worthy sons of Ukraine, our people are proud of him! Zelenskiy tweeted.

“And any manifestation of racism or xenophobia in Ukraine is unacceptable! The police must react harshly to such cases and stop them. “

Oleksander Pastukhov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Greco-Roman Wrestling and Sports Federation, also said that “Beleniuk is our hero, it is a provocation”, adding that “he is a patriot, he is a real Ukrainian “.

The country’s police have opened an investigation.

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