Ukrainian wrestler Zhan Beleniuk won his nation’s sole gold medal in Tokyo last year. Seven months later he became the country’s first Black member of parliament.
Accustomed to battling on the wrestling mat, Beleniuk was forced to realise the stakes are much higher in parliament, especially when your country is being invaded.
Instead of files and books on his desk in parliament, Beleniuk’s drawers contain three pistols and a grenade, “just in case”, he said.
Beleniuk claimed that he – along with other members of parliament – are on a hit list created by Russian forces for assassination, adding that he is prepared for any attack.
“I don’t have any military experience, but I have to be prepared,” he said.
“In wrestling when you lose a fight, there’s another day.
“But here you can die at any moment. And it’s not just your own life. It’s the lives of your family. It’s the future of your country. These are the highest stakes ever,” the 31-year-old told The Guardian.
Last August Beleniuk said that he had realised his dream when he claimed Olympic gold in the men’s 87kg Greco-Roman wrestling event.
Now, he said he feels stuck “in a nightmare that is impossible to believe.”
Beleniuk spends his time attending to issues in his constituency alongside soldiers and volunteers, but the ongoing conflict is heartbreaking for him to witness.
“One of the biggest problems we face is that Russian troops are blocking humanitarian corridors in many places, so people are without food, water and they are actually dying of hunger and dehydration,” he said emotionally.
The wrestler managed to get his mother out of the capital city of Kyiv, adding that she distracted him from doing his work as she was worried about him.
“So, it was for my own peace of mind to bring her somewhere safer. And also, to give me some space to do the work that I’m supposed to do,” Beleniuk said.
He said there is no comparison between war and sport.
“With sport there is no fear of an unexpected death, or your family dying at any time,” Beleniuk said.
Image source: @TheGuardian