Fencer Olha Kharlan became the first athlete representing Ukraine to compete against a Russian or Belarusian since Russia’s invasion last year when she took on Anna Smirnova on Thursday at the world championships.

The Ukrainian sports ministry late Wednesday changed its previous policy from barring athletes from facing Russians or Belarusians competing as neutrals.

The new policy says Ukrainians are barred from facing those athletes who “represent the Russian Federation and Belarus”.

Smirnova was competing as a neutral.

Four-time world sabre champion Kharlan outclassed Smirnova and fulfilling the promise she made to AFP in an interview a fortnight ago refused to either acknowledge her Russian opponent nor shake her hand at the end of the contest.


The 32-year-old -- who hopes to add the elusive Olympic individual gold next year to complete the full set of titles -- was cheered on by around 20 members of the Ukrainian delegation chanting ‘Slava Ukraini’ (‘Glory to Ukraine’).

Smirnova furious at the snub and her loss stood her ground and was still sitting on her chair 10 minutes after the bout.

Ukrainian tennis players have been playing Russians and Belarusians since the invasion in February, 2022, but as individuals not representing their country -- they too have avoided shaking hands with their opponents.

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