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Russia's National Team Coordinator Valentina Rodionenko Defends Gymnast Ivan Kuliak Over His Outrageous Behavior At Doha World Cup And Describes The Ukrainian Athletes' Behavior As 'Provocative'

Russia's national team coordinator Valentina Rodionenko expressed her approval of gymnast Ivan Kuliak's behavior at the 2022 Doha Wo...

Russia's national team coordinator Valentina Rodionenko expressed her approval of gymnast Ivan Kuliak's behavior at the 2022 Doha World Cup.

The 20 year old gymnast showed his support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by wearing the letter Z on his shirt, the symbol which has been reported to mean 'victory' in Russian and which has been seen on tanks taking part in the invasion.

Kuliak wore the symbol at the parallel bars final, where he won a bronze medal, and while sharing the podium with Ukrainian gymnast and gold medalist Illia Kovtun.

"You know, he didn’t ask us for advice. It was definitely his own initiative. Our guys are Russian patriots," Rodionenko told

"I guess this thing [patriotism] affected him and he did not let us know. I think that he did everything right," she continued.

"Why are they constantly trying to paint us as aggressors, murderers and so on, that they’re all so miserable while we’re silent? We are being told – stay silent, don’t respond – but the other side is taking advantage of that and becoming bolder."

"It’s not normal! We are staying silent while they are constantly talking, it shouldn’t be like that. We should respond."

On February 24th, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine marking a major escalation between the countries that had been in a state of conflict since 2014.

On 4 March, the FIG announced banning Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges from taking part in FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions - starting from March 7th until further notice.

"All the adults there, the coaching stuff, when we gathered together, became united in the opinion that Russia made a big mistake that for eight years, [Russians] were persuading them [Ukrainians], while knowing what shenanigans they were engaged in in Donetsk and Luhansk. Persuading and staying silent. And now we’re paying for it," she added in the interview that was translated by gymnovosti.

“The medal ceremonies went like this: if our girl won and the Ukrainian medaled, she refused to participate in the medal ceremony. For example, on bars, the first two places were ours and the third one won by the Ukrainian. And she was awarded separately."

Russian gymnasts Viktoria Listunova and Maria Minaeva won gold and silver on the uneven bars in Doha respectively.

Ukrainian gymnast Daniela Batrona took the bronze medal.

During the medal ceremony, Batrona came out on her own with the Ukrainian flag draped over her shoulders. She received her medal then left the podium.

The Russian gymnasts then came out separately to receive their medals.

"Regarding Vania [Kuliak], I don’t even know about this situation. As the delegation head, I wasn’t even told about it there. Honestly, I didn’t see him once appearing in this singlet."

The FIG announced that Ivan Kuliak will be facing disciplinary action as a result.

"On the contrary, the Ukrainians treated this [medal] ceremony without any issues because the Ukrainian anthem played [during it]."

Rodioneko described the Ukrainian athletes' behavior at the World Cup as "provocative".

"They were walking wrapped in flags and no one could tell them anything in order not to cause a conflict. But this is actually a direct violation of the rules."

"This was so provocative… Obviously, they were strictly prohibited from talking to us and the Belarusians."

The Russian coach pointed out that all the Russian and Belarusian judges were withdrawn from the competition, while a Ukrainian judge was allowed to judge on all events in the women's competition, despite it being announced earlier that Ukrainian judges would not take part in the competition.

"She did her job, she dragged her athlete to the top where she could," she claimed

"But this is not important. The only important thing was this horrible atmosphere. And we only had one desire – to leave and go back home as soon as possible."

"Because we were constantly feeling like something was hanging over us, something would happen. And we didn’t know what kind of provocation Ukrainian athletes were capable of."

Rodionenko believes that 16 year old Batrona was influenced by the adults when she refused to attend the medal ceremony for the uneven bars and floor exercise.

Batrona won silver behind Russian Maria Minaeva on floor exercise.

However, the same does not apply to the Ukrainian male gymnasts whom she believes have deliberately acted negatively towards them.

"I’m sure it wasn’t her decision. But the guys – yes, this was deliberate. When we would go to the restaurant to eat, they were constantly trying to say something to us. No one forced them to do it for sure. "

"It’s the generation raised in the 90s, they don’t know what the Soviet Union is. And they’ve only been told bad things about Russia since they were children."

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