Russian gymnast wears national war symbol on shirt while sharing podium with Ukrainian rival

Ivan Kuliak sparked outrage with his deliberate act, as he stood on a podium with a rival whose country his leaders have invaded

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A Russian gymnast word a pro-war symbol proudly on his chest as he stood on a podium next to a Ukrainian rival.

Ivan Kuliak earned a bronze medal in the parallel bars at an event in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, while Illia Kovtun of Ukraine came out on top.

Kuliak was unable to wear his country’s official uniform due to a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their nations over the invasion of Ukraine.

That didn’t stop the gymnast from hiding his feelings about the conflict, though, as he sported an obvious pro-war symbol on his chest during the medal ceremony.

Instead of a Russian crest, he wore a makeshift white ‘z’ on his chest – a symbol which generally means ‘victory’ within Russia’s military.

Kuliak had trained with the armed forces in 2021.

Ivan Kuliak deliberately wore a pro-war symbol on his chest while standing next to a Ukrainian rival

The ‘z’ symbol was most obviously used when it was spray painted onto Russian tanks and other armored vehicles which rolled across the border and into Ukrainian territory after Vladimir Putin gave the invasion order.

It has also been worn by politicians and influencers who support Putin’s bloody war.

Merchandise featuring the symbol is even being sold by news outlet Russia Today (RT), which has been taken off the air in the UK and banned in the EU.

So when Kuliak stepped onto the podium sporting the symbol while standing next to a Ukrainian rival, he knew he was making a statement.

Despite winning the event, Kovtun looked as though he had noticed the symbol and was steely-faced as he was presented with his medal.

He shook hands with Kazakhstani competitor Milad Karimi, who won bronze, but did not acknowledge the third-placed Russian at all during the ceremony.

Furious fans flocked to the official social media page of the FIG, the world gymnastics governing body, to demand Kuliak be punished for his actions.

Illya Kovtun, of Ukraine, completely blanked the Russian competitor to his left

He will be affected by a full ban on Russian athletes, which comes into force on Monday, but some have called for further action to be taken against him.

“Ban Ivan Kuliak from gymnastics immediately!” wrote @JusteHalavin, who added: “Putting letter Z is like putting Swastika on the uniform – that’s supporting war, killing innocent people, promoting hate and putting this beautiful sport to shame.”

@IzbasaG added: “This was extremely violent. Imagine how traumatic this must have been for the Ukrainian athletes. Shame. He should not be there in the first place. I hope FIG will punish this action.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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