Afro-Ukrainian Wrestler Zhan Beleniuk Won Olympic Gold But Can’t Escape Racism


Draped in a Ukrainian flag, Zhan Beleniuk celebrated his gold medal victory by performing the traditional Ukrainian Hopak dance. It was his country’s sole Tokyo Olympic gold medal.

But the win by the Ukrainian Greco-Roman wrestler holds even more significance than the medal count.

You see, Beleniuk is a gold medal winner, Afro-Ukrainian, and the first Black member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

The 30-year-old represents a country and region we tend to ignore when it comes to conversations about Black athletes.

Beleniuk’s story highlights the history of the Cold War and transnational contact between Soviet citizens and African students in the Soviet Union.

Between the 1950s and late 1980s, thousands of African students moved to the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, to pursue their degrees.

While uncommon, many African students had relationships and families with Soviet citizens. Their children are now visible representations of this unique period in Eastern European and African history.

Zhan Vensanovych Beleniuk is one of these children.

Continue reading over at First and Pen.

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