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As Ukraine continues to defend itself against the invading Russian military, Zhan Beleniuk, their country’s first Black member of parliament (MP) is urging fellow countrymen to resist Putin’s invasion.
Zhan Beleniuk’s presence alone highlights the nation’s vulnerable and little-known African Ukrainian population. Most arrived in Ukraine during the 1920-50s as a part of educational and work programs along with the decolonization of Africa. Yet today many report instances of racism, even while trying to escape the active war zone.
Also an Olympic Gold Medalist, Zhan Beleniuk has been outspoken about the racism he’s faced in Ukraine after winning the Greco-Roman middleweight gold in the Tokyo games.
According to the BBC, there are estimated to be tens of thousands of people of color living in Russia – including Russian-born people with mixed heritage and people from African and Caribbean countries. Many of those Black residents report acts of overt and blatant racism that mimic the same discriminatory experiences of Black Americans.
Throughout American history, Black soldiers fought for a country where racism flourished and Beleniuk too is ready to fight for his nation and all its inherent flaws. Last week, he posted images of himself on Instagram cleaning a Soviet-era pistol. Though a current politician and forever Olympian, his new role as a Soldier is one born out of necessity. Experts say he and other Black Ukrainians could become targets for Russian occupiers simply because they’re Black.
Zhan Beleniuk is a Ukrainian Hero.
“I consider myself 100% Ukrainian, and the people who have always supported and believed in me are all in Ukraine,” Beleniuk said while competing in the Olympics. Regarding talks with Russia in Belarus, Beleniuk said that the government is making all efforts to end the war now. Talks among Ukrainian and Russian delegations are expected to begin today.