Ukraine Disowns an Olympic Champion Who Skated in Russia

As Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, Viktor Petrenko, one of Ukraine’s most visible Olympic champions, posted the message “NO WAR” to his Instagram account. Days later, Petrenko’s daughter said her father had been stranded in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, where he was taking shelter after returning from a commemoration of his 1992 Olympic figure skating title that had been held in his hometown, Odesa.

Petrenko appeared to be one of the many Ukrainian athletes who would defiantly serve as wartime ambassadors for their besieged nation. But since then, his standing as a champion has deteriorated in his native country.

In June, Petrenko announced his intention to leave the Ukrainian figure skating federation. A day later, he was provisionally expelled, a federation official said. And in July, Petrenko was formally ousted, and fired from his position as a vice president, after he participated in an ice show in Sochi, Russia.

On Monday, the office of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced that Zelensky had stripped Petrenko of a monthly stipend given to top athletes and other Ukrainians of great achievement, citing Petrenko’s performance in Russia.

The ice show was organized by Tatiana Navka, a 2006 Olympic ice dancing champion, who is the wife of Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman. In March, the United States Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Peskov and Navka for their ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and said that Navka had a property empire worth more than $10 million.

Tatiana Navka, who organized an ice show in Sochi, Russia, won the gold medal in ice dancing at the 2006 Winter Olympics with her partner, Roman Kostomarov.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Another skater in the show, called “The Scarlet Flower,” is Kamila Valieva, the Russian teenager whose positive test for a banned substance was made public during the Beijing Olympics in February and who bungled her final routine of the Games under the weight of international scrutiny. The show is scheduled to continue through September, though it is not clear if Petrenko is still performing in it.

In January, before the war started, Petrenko posted on Instagram that he was performing in St. Petersburg, Russia. But the Ukrainian skating federation said it was “outraged” by Petrenko’s skating in Russia after the invasion occurred.

“The former athlete made his shameful decision despite the bloody full-scale war that Russia has been waging,” the federation said in a statement, according to a translation. The deaths of thousands of Ukrainians, the statement said, “did not become an obstacle for Viktor Petrenko to go out on the ice” in Russia “and perform in the same team with the supporters of this terrible war.”

Ukraine’s Olympic Committee also denounced Petrenko’s behavior, saying it was “unacceptable” to perform “on the territory of the aggressor country, which is waging a brutal war against Ukraine.”

On Monday, Petrenko, 53, did not respond to a request for comment. His daughter, Victoria, who lives in New York, said she was at work and unable to speak with a reporter.

Galina Zmievskaya, who coached Petrenko to his gold medal and now teaches skating in Hackensack, N.J., also did not respond to a request for comment.

Anastasiya Makarova, the general secretary of Ukraine’s figure skating association, said in a WhatsApp message Monday that Petrenko wrote a letter to officials on June 21, before he skated in Russia, saying that he wanted to leave the federation.

Petrenko explained in the letter that he was spending most of his time outside Ukraine while conducting his professional skating activities, Makarova said. Petrenko spends much of his time coaching and performing in ice shows across Europe. Skating, like the rest of life in Ukraine, has been disrupted by the war.

He was provisionally expelled from the federation a day later, then formally ousted on July 9 by the federation’s council, Makarova said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know why he took part in the show” in Russia, Makarova said.

Kamila Valieva, the Russian teenager who tested positive for a banned substance at the Beijing Olympics this year, is also performing in the Sochi show.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Petrenko won a bronze medal while competing for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, finishing third in the so-called Battle of the Brians won by Brian Boitano of the United States over Brian Orser of Canada.

Four years later, Petrenko won gold at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Only two months earlier, the Soviet Union had dissolved. Petrenko competed during that tumultuous period not for Ukraine but for what was called the Unified Team in Albertville, composed of athletes from former Soviet republics.

In 1994, when the Winter and Summer Games began being held in separate years, Petrenko finished fourth at the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, this time skating for the blue and yellow flag of his native Ukraine.

In the early 1990s, though, he joined an exodus of more than 100 skaters and coaches from the former Soviet Union who came to the United States to continue their careers during a period of economic chaos in Russia, when money for skating was scarce and some rinks were turned into shopping malls and automobile dealerships. Eventually, Petrenko returned to Europe to coach and skate in ice shows.

In the small, close-knit world of elite figure skating, at least one prominent Russian coach, Tatiana Tarasova, came to Petrenko’s defense for performing in Sochi. She told Tass, the Russian news agency, that Petrenko was “one of the best people I know” and that “it’s ugly that he’s forbidden” to do his job.

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