Unbossed civil rights defender or servant of a racist society?
By Thomas L Blair 8 March 2022 ©
Ukraine’s Zhan Vensanovych Beleniuk is that nation’s Olympic wrestling prodigy and the first elected Black non-white Member of Parliament. And from this dual-platform of excellence, he urges the vulnerable African Ukrainian population to join the resistance to the Russian invasion.
Beleniuk, the aspiring wrestling champion, was born in 1991 in Kyiv to a Ukrainian mother and Rwandan fighter pilot father. Like many inter-racial couples, they lived in a small urban community of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Africans.
Life was not easy Beleniuk acknowledges. His wrestling prowess was no guard against abuse. The neo-Nazis shouted “black monkey go to Africa” when he brought home his middleweight gold from the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
As a result, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered police to investigate the abuse against “one of the most worthy sons of Ukraine”. Thereafter, he urged hero Beleniuk to join his governing Servant of the People party.
Beleniuk immediately accepted saying “I love my country, it gave me everything I have. I want to promote the development of Ukrainian sport and no one will make me go anywhere”.
Now, describing himself as “100-percent Ukrainian”, Beleniuk is an army officer with special housing benefits for his sporting achievements. Moreover, he displays his patriotism in traditional Ukrainian folk shirts and dancing the Hopak.
With satisfaction, Beleniuk carefully orchestrates his public image. He points to his two thousand loyal Facebook followers. Frequently he poses in battle-ready gear and often appears with the President in morale-boosting photographs.
Detractors may question the extraordinary rise of this award-winning Afro-Ukrainian political figure. But Beleniuk relishes the challenge with the same vigour as a wrestling bout.
He believes he’ll have a direct platform in the post-war era to help end racial prejudice and improve the nation’s sporting prowess.
Ukraine’s sports lovers across the racial divides may favour Beleniuk’s athletic goals. However, too often Black claims to civil rights are met with an ominous threat “SHUT UP OR GET OUT”.
Therefore the struggle against discrimination and for equality continues.
* Defend the interests of Black and mixed-race citizens and communities.
*Support foreign African and Caribbean students and people of colour.
*Offer economic aid to students, traders, workers, migrants and refugees.
*Promote equality and justice for all when the national unity fostered by war is over.
Failure to act for Blacks taints Beleniuk’s rise. Afro-Ukrainians need this champion and lawmaker on their side. Time for Beleniuk to make a hero’s call for equality and justice. Or be seen as a courtier to the power elites of a white ethnic nationalist state.
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