Putin Grants Citizenship to Ukrainian Gymnast and Draughts Champion

Eleonora Romanova
Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova (L), Viktoriia Mazur (C) and Eleonora Romanova pose with bronze medals for a photo at the 31st European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Minsk, Belarus, May 2, 2015. Russia won the gold, Belarus silver and Ukraine bronze in the team final competition. Romanova has since been given Russian citizenship by presidential decree. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Ukraine’s four time champion of the world in draughts has jumped ship to Russia by decree of President Vladimir Putin.

Darya Tkatchenko, 32, who was born in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, was granted Russian citizenship by presidential decree on Thursday and will represent Russia from now on.

The Kremlin granted several more foreign sports competitors Russian citizenship this week, including Ukrainian-born rhythmic gymnast, Eleonora Romanova and her mother. Romanova was born in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, where, like Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists have clashed with Ukrainian armed forces and have held territory near the Russian border since 2014.

Russian parliament adopted a new, more simplified system of granting citizenship to foreigners from the former Soviet Union in 2014, stripping additional criteria and tests for anyone who was born or had parents who were citizens of any republic from the Soviet Union. The only requirement in such cases is demonstrative fluency of the Russian language.

In many sports, a competitor for Russia earns more than competitors from other former Soviet states, which has long seen some talented athletes from neighbouring countries flock to Russia. This has become more controversial for Ukrainian competitors in particular, since ties between Moscow and Kiev have collapsed over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The predominantly Russian speaking regions are internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory, however Russia deployed troops in Crimea in 2014 under the auspices of protecting Russian speakers from protests against Ukraine’s pro-Russian government at the time. Russian-backed rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk have used a similar narrative to explain their efforts.

Ukrainian news site Apostrof accused “Putinist” commenters of “gloating” at the news of Romanova and Tkatchenko’s arrivals, posting comments such as “every smart Ukrainian wants to be Russian.”

Earlier this summer Ukraine’s world champion Greco-Roman wrestler in the 85kg class, said he had received lucrative offers from Russia and Azerbaijan to compete for them, but despite reports that he was due to join Russia, he told Newsweek he had no plans to do so.