Who Is Ivan Kuliak? Russian Gymnast Faces Disciplinary Action after Showing 'Z' Symbol to Ukrainian Athlete on Podium

Kuliak, 20, a former Russian junior champion, had just finished third in the parallel bars at a World Cup event in Doha, behind Ukraine's Illia Kovtun, who won gold.

  • Updated

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has sparked outrage after he sported a Russian war insignia on his jersey while sharing the medal podium with a Ukrainian rival. Kulaik sported the letter "Z" prominently placed on the front of his outfit as he stood next to Ukraine's Illia Kovtun, who won the gold.

He is now facing disciplinary action form the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for the "shocking behavior." Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces have been using the letter Z as an identifying mark on their tanks and vehicles on Ukrainian soil. The insignia has also been displayed by certain pro-invasion sympathizers.

Unlike a Sportsman

Ivan Kulaik
Ivan Kulaik wearing 'Z' symbol on his jersey on the podium Twitter

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has announced that Kuliak would face disciplinary action for his "shocking behavior" for showing a mark of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine at a competition.

Kuliak, 20, a former Russian junior champion, had just finished third in the parallel bars at a World Cup event in Doha, behind Ukraine's Illia Kovtun, who won gold. Instead of showing true sportsman spirit, the gymnast while taking the podium he was pictured prominently sporting letter "Z" on the front of his jersey.

"The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) confirms that it will ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against Ivan Kuliak following his shocking behavior at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Qatar," a statement from the ruling body said.

Ivan Kulaik and Illia Kovtun
Ivan Kulaik (extreme right) sharing the podium with Ukrainian Illia Kovtun (center) Twitter

The letter Z is emblazoned on the front of Vladimir Putin's tanks and other military vehicles, symbolizing victory in Russian although 'Z' does not exist in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet. The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that 'Z' means victory.

The International Gymnastics Federation, which has also cancelled all events in Russia and Belarus, has now prohibited the Z on his shirt in place of the Russian flag.

"The FIG adopted further measures against Russia and Belarus on 4 March," FIG said in a statement. "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."

World Against Russia

Russian Tanks with Z symbol
web screen grab

The ban on Belarus comes as the country has been a key staging area for Russian forces. Pro-Putin politicians, activists, and personalities have also been seen wearing 'Z'-themed clothing and badges to demonstrate their support for the conflict. Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded television channel, sells 'Z' products.

That said, Kuliak received military training with the Russian army last year. It is not known if Kulaik was instructed to sport the 'Z' on his jersey by Russian authorities or he did it impulsively.

This comes as Russian forces continue to launch attacks on Ukraine. However, they have been subject to tough resistance from Ukrainian forces and have incurred massive losses in the past 10 days.

Russia's invasion has been widely condemned around the world, resulting in the emigration of more than 1.5 million Ukrainians and the imposition of broad Western-led sanctions aimed at damaging the Russian economy. Eight civilians were murdered outside of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, on Sunday when Russian soldiers shelled a bridge as they attempted to flee to safety.