As Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, Viktor Petrenko, one of Ukraine’s most prominent Olympic champions, posted the message “NO WAR” on his Instagram account. A few days later, Petrenko’s daughter said her father had been stranded in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where he had taken refuge after returning from a commemoration of his 1992 Olympic figure skating title which had took place in his hometown, Odessa.
Petrenko appeared to be one of many Ukrainian athletes who would defiantly serve as wartime ambassadors for their beleaguered nation. But since then, his champion status 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 officially ousted and fired as vice president, after performing at an ice show in Sochi, Russia.
On Monday, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Zelensky had stripped Petrenko of a monthly stipend given to top athletes and other highly successful Ukrainians, citing Petrenko’s performance in Russia.
The ice show was organized by Tatiana Navka, Olympic champion in ice dancing in 2006, wife of Dmitry S. Peskov, spokesperson for the Kremlin. In March, the United States Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Peskov and Navka for their ties to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and said Navka had a real estate empire worth more than $10 million. .
Another skater on the show, titled ‘The Scarlet Flower’, is Kamila Valieva, the Russian teenager who tested positive for a banned substance during the Beijing Olympics in February and missed her latest routine. of the Games under the weight of the international press. meticulous examination. The show is set to run through September, although it’s unclear if Petrenko is still performing there.
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.
“The former athlete made his shameful decision despite the large-scale bloody war that Russia is waging,” the federation said in a statement, according to a translation. The death of thousands of Ukrainians, according to the statement, “did not become an obstacle for Viktor Petrenko to go out on the ice” in Russia “and play in the same team as the partisans of this terrible war”.
The Ukrainian 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. Her daughter, Victoria, who lives in New York, said she was at work and unable to speak to a reporter.
Galina Zmievskaya, who coached Petrenko to her gold medal and now teaches skating in Hackensack, NJ, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Anastasiya Makarova, secretary general of the Ukrainian figure skating association, said in a WhatsApp message on Monday that Petrenko wrote a letter to officials on June 21, before skating in Russia, saying he wanted to leave the federation.
Petrenko explained in the letter that he spends most of his time outside Ukraine while pursuing his professional skating activities, Makarova said. Petrenko spends much of his time coaching and performing at 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 council, Makarova said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know why he participated in the show” in Russia, Makarova said.
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 against Brian Orser from 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 this tumultuous time not for Ukraine but for what was called the Albertville Unified Team, made up of athletes from the former Soviet republics.
In 1994, when the Winter and Summer Games began to be 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, however, he joined an exodus of more than 100 skaters and coaches from the former Soviet Union who came to the United States to pursue their careers during a time of economic chaos in Russia, when the money for skating was scarce and some rinks were turned into shopping malls and car dealerships. Eventually, Petrenko returned to Europe to coach and skate in ice shows.
In the small, tight-knit world of elite figure skating, at least one top Russian coach, Tatiana Tarasova, has come to Petrenko’s defense for playing 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 is forbidden” to do his job.