Russian pro-war ‘Z’ explained as gymnast has no regrets over supporting invasion of Ukraine

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Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak says he has no regrets over wearing a symbol in support of the invasion of Ukraine on the podium following a World Cup event in Doha on Saturday March 5.

But what was it he wore and what does it mean as the Russian invasion continues?

Kuliak attached a letter ‘Z’ to his chest before receiving his bronze medal in the parallel bars, an event won by Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun.

The letter has been seen daubed on the sides of Russian tanks, and has come to be regarded as a sign of support for the invasion.

The 20-year-old’s move was condemned as “shocking behaviour” by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), which has asked its Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to launch an investigation.

In Russia, the “Z” is fast becoming seen as a staunchly pro-war symbol of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It has been used by politicians, seen on the sides of cars, vans and advertising hoardings – as well as painted on bus shelters, the BBC reports.

It has even been used by Serbs at pro-Russian demonstration in Belgrade. Photographs have been widely shared on social media.

While zed in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet is written differently – and looks like a 3 – most Russians recognise Latin letters. Emily Ferris, Research Fellow Russia and Eurasia at RUSI, says the “Z” is a powerful and easily recognisable symbol.

It is now believed the symbol is simply a way for Russia’s military to identify its own forces.

But Kuliak, who faces the prospect of a lengthy ban, was unrepentant on Tuesday, telling Russia Today: “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.

“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.”

Prior to the event in Doha, the FIG had announced that 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.

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