Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has no regrets over wearing 'Z' symbol in support of Ukraine invasion

Ivan Kuliak wore a top with the pro-war symbol Z on it during the medal ceremony. Credit: Claro Sports

A Russian gymnast who wore a national war symbol on his leotard as he stood next to a Ukrainian athlete following a World Cup event, says he has no regrets over his actions and he would do it again.

Ivan Kuliak brandished the letter Z- a powerful pro Putin symbol and an apparent sign of support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine - on the front of his outfit before receiving his bronze medal following the parallel bars event in Doha on Saturday.

The 20-year-old, who received his medal next to the winner, Ukrainian Illia Kovtun, has insisted he would wear the symbol again, despite his actions being condemned as "shocking behaviour" by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

“If there was a second chance and I had a choice whether to go out with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do the same," he told Russia Today on Tuesday.

“I saw it on our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out to be “for victory” and “for peace”.

"I just wanted to show my position. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and play for peace.”

Following the incident, the FIG said in a statement: "The International Gymnastics Federation confirms that it will ask the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to open disciplinary proceedings against ... Kuliak following his shocking behaviour at the Apparatus World Cup."

The athlete now faces the prospect of a lengthy ban.

Before the event in Doha, the FIG had announced all Russian gymnasts and officials would be banned from international events from March 7 until further notice, in line with global sporting sanctions against the country.

It came amid a backdrop of the sporting world having effectively banned Russia out of competing.

The Olympic and Paralympic committees, Fifa and Formula 1 are among the other big organisations to exclude Russia from their sports, with the country banned from competing at the football World Cup, from hosting the Sochi Grand Prix and from competing at the Beijing Paralympics.

A Russian tank outside Mariupol with a large Z painted on the side. Credit: ITV News

Kuliak's actions prompted so much controversy because the letter Z has become symbolic with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which the UN estimates has killed 474 civilians in the country so far.

What is the significance of the symbol Z?

Russian forces have used the letter Z as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine- although it was also spotted on Russian tanks in the Syrian civil war.

Supporters of the Ukraine war have also begun brandishing it on car windows and clothing as a sign of their solidarity with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

The symbol has also been co-opted as a symbol of far-right nationalism in Russia, a group that has flourished under Putin.

The true military reason as to why some Russian soldiers have decided to paint it on their vehicles is not known.

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