Russian swimmers have mounted a large outcry on social media after Ukrainian-born Turkish swimmer Viktoriya Gunes posted a photograph standing on a Russian flag.
The 23-year old Gunes was born in Poltava, Ukraine, and began her international career representing Ukraine and swimming under the name Viktoria Solnceva. She won the 2013 World Junior Championship in the 200 breaststroke and 2013 European Junior Championships in the 50 and 200 breaststrokes while representing Ukraine. She still holds Ukrainian Records in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes in long course, plus the 200 breaststroke in short course.
She first represented Turkey, under the name Viktoria Gunes, at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan. There, she advanced to the semifinals of the 100 breaststroke.
Later that year, at the 2015 World Junior Championships, she won all three breaststroke races and the 200 IM, and broke the World Junior Record in the 200 breaststroke in 2:19.64: just .53 seconds off the World Record. That remains the World Junior Record. She also broke the 200 IM World Junior Record.
Several Russian swimmers reacted strongly to the post on their own social media accounts. Russian swimmers have come under increased pressure this week after double Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, wearing the “Z” that has become the symbol of the war for Russia. That prompted a ban on Russian aquatic athletes by a number of organizations that had previously resisted, including FINA banning them for the rest of 2022 (including from June’s World Championships) and ISL team Energy Standard banning them as well.
Among those who reacted strongly to Gunes’ post were her now-suspended Energy Standard teammates Kliment Kolesnikov and Maxim Stupin.
Kolesnikov’s response was relatively-vague, posting two question marks surrounding an emoji of a man shrugging his shoulders.
Others have been more specific. Russian Record holder Vladislav Grinev and former British swimmer-turned-Russian-swimmer Tatiana Belongoff were more specific, sharing the same message on their Instagram stories:
“Where are the boundaries of the permitted behavior of athletes? If you decide that it is humane to remove Russian athletes from participation in international competitions, then take action here as well. Nationalism is UNACCEPTABLE in any form.”
Stupin, who left at least one pro-war comment on Instagram early in the war, shared the same message.
Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over 1000 civilians have been killed, according to the United Nations. That is in addition to an estimated tens-of-thousands of deaths of members of the military on both sides.
SwimSwam has reached out to Gunes and Kolesnikov to elaborate on their stances, but neither has responded.