Ukraine Mixed-Race Wrestler Tackles Prejudice in Run For Parliament

Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots, is running to become the first mixed-race member of Ukraine’s parliament

Boyarka, Ukraine | AFP |  Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots, is seeking to enter Ukraine’s parliament as the first mixed-race MP in a bid to overcome racist attitudes and support the country’s young new leader.

The Greco-Roman style wrestler, who won silver for Ukraine at the Rio Olympics, is standing for the party of the new Ukrainian president, comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky, in Sunday’s polls.

The 28-year-old is the son of a Ukrainian dressmaker and a Rwandan pilot killed in that country’s civil war in the 1990s. He grew up in a one-room flat in the capital Kiev.

“Volodymyr Zelensky invited me to join his party, we knew each other before,” Beleniuk told AFP in an interview as he campaigned in the small town of Boyarka just outside Kiev.

“It seems like he saw qualities in me that will help promote the development of Ukrainian sport,” said the athlete after holding a training session for children.

Describing himself as “100 percent Ukrainian”, Beleniuk said his election would prove “we’re really a country that’s modern and that treats all races, all ethnic groups the same.”

Prejudice is nevertheless an issue in Ukraine where last year, radical hate groups carried out two dozen attacks on Roma and other minorities, according to Human Rights Watch.

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