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‘Savages!’: Ukraine’s Black Olympian and Lawmaker Says He Was Verbally Attacked, Called ‘Black Monkey’ After He Won The Nation’s Sole Tokyo Gold Medal

Ukrainian wrestler Zhan Beleniuk was the sole recipient of a gold medal on his team during the Tokyo Summer Games, but his welcome back home was anything but warm. 

Beleniuk won the gold in the 87-kilogram Greco-Roman wrestling event. The achievement marked a personal milestone for Beleniuk who previously took home silver during the Rio Games in 2016. 

Zhan Beleniuk (third from right) poses for a photo with coaches and members of the Ukrainian wresting team at the European Championship in April of 2021. (Photo: @zhanbeleniuk/Instagram)

But on Aug. 13, the 30-year-old shared on Facebook that even with his golden accolade he was not exempt from racist attacks. The lengthy 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 but…

1. I wonder if I am Ukrainian for my state, what criteria of patriotism exist in it?!

2. How safe can the Olympic champion feel in his homeland and in his hometown?!

3. And is it normal in the European state to hear offensive things to people who put life on its glorification?!”

Just two years ago Beleniuk — whose mother is Ukrainian and father was Rwandan — made history while becoming Ukraine’s first Black member of Parliament when he joined President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People Party. Beleniuk was reared in Ukraine by his mother and grandmother and never knew his father, who was killed in Rwanda before Beleniuk was born. His fellow Ukrainians who support the change Beleniuk represents for his country offered up messages of support — translated below from Ukrainian — while condemning the racist ignorance he experienced.

“Some savages! Omg what a disgrace 🤦🏻‍♂️”

“I am proud to have people like you in our country, the vast majority are sincere and smart patriots 🇺🇦”

“You are our pride! I’m proud of you! I hope by your appeal, the National Police officers will conduct a check, identify the offenders, all his circumstances, and give him a proper legal assessment! I believe that this shameful case will make you stronger and we are even more friendly and united.”

The two-time world champion and three-time European champion affirmed those messages of support were received and that the verbal abuse spewed by a few would not deter him from loving his country. 

“Everything is OK with me!” he wrote later on that day. “I love my country, it gave me everything I have and no one will make me go anywhere, and inadequate exist absolutely everywhere! Just sometimes they get in our way 😒”

While an investigation into the incident has been launched, Oleksander Pastukhov, spokesperson of the Ukrainian Federation of Greco-Roman and Sports Wrestling, reiterated that “Beleniuk is our hero, this is a provocation,” and that “he is a patriot, he is a real Ukrainian,” despite the comments made by his verbal attackers.

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