Gymnast Ivan Kuliak defends wearing 'Z' symbol in support of Russian invaders on podium after event

Kuliak told Russia Today, the state-run media operation also known as RT, he would wear the symbol again if given the chance.

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Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia drive an armored vehicle with the symbol "Z" painted on its side in the separatist-controlled village of Bugas during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 6, 2022. 

Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia drive an armored vehicle with the symbol “Z” painted on its side in the separatist-controlled village of Bugas during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 6, 2022.  (REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

“I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out [it means], ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace,’” Kuliak claimed. “I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed [what] my position [was]. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and stand for peace. Only [for that] and everything.”

While Kuliak brushed off the “Z” symbol like it was no big deal, the pained white “Z” first appeared on tanks and other military vehicles as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February. The symbol has been said to identify the vehicles as friendlies for Russian forces.

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Kuliak couldn’t propel his way out of criticism over his “position.”

The 20-year-old from Kaluga, Russia, finished in third place in the parallel bars at the event and joined Ukrainian Illia Kovtun and Kazakh Milad Karimi on the podium. The white “Z” appeared on his gymnastics uniform in the center of his chest.

A protester holds a "Z" sign banner, in reference to Russian tanks marked with the letter, during a rally organized by Serbian right-wing organizations in support of Russian attacks on Ukraine, in Belgrade, Serbia, March 4, 2022. Around a thousand Serbian ultra-nationalist supporters marched in Belgrade in support of the Russian attacks on Ukraine.

A protester holds a “Z” sign banner, in reference to Russian tanks marked with the letter, during a rally organized by Serbian right-wing organizations in support of Russian attacks on Ukraine, in Belgrade, Serbia, March 4, 2022. Around a thousand Serbian ultra-nationalist supporters marched in Belgrade in support of the Russian attacks on Ukraine. (Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

GYMNAST IVAN KULIAK WEARS ‘Z’ AT PODIUM IN APPARENT SHOW OF SUPPORT FOR RUSSIAN FORCES, FIG CONDEMNS ACTIONS

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) condemned the apparent show of support.

“The International Gymnastics Federation confirms that it will ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against male artistic gymnast Ivan Kuliak (RUS) following his shocking behavior at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar,” FIG said in a statement.

“The FIG adopted further measures against Russia and Belarus on 4 March. From 7 March 2022. Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges, are not allowed to take part in FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions.”

Ivan Kuliak wears a "Z" in apparent support for Russian forces at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup.

Ivan Kuliak wears a “Z” in apparent support for Russian forces at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup. (Ivan Kuliak, Russia, Ukraine, war)

The gymnastics federation had already condemned Russia and Belarus for the attacks. The organization said Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from competition indefinitely starting on March 7. There is an event set for March 10-13 in Azerbaijan.

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