Ukraine's Olha Kharlan was disqualified for not shaking the hand of her beaten Russian opponent Anna Smirnova at the Fencing World Championships on Thursday.

Four-time sabre world champion Kharlan had told AFP a fortnight ago she would not shake hands with a Russian if she fought one.

She had earlier become the first athlete officially representing Ukraine to face a Russian or Belarusian opponent since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

On Thursday, she beat Smirnova and brandished her saber in lieu of shaking hands.




"The decision," wrote presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak on social media, "is the manifestation of a complete lack of empathy, misunderstanding of the emotional context and is absolutely shameful."

The 32-year-old had been given the green light only at 0600GMT on Thursday morning, coming hours after the Ukraine sports ministry late Wednesday changed its previous policy of barring athletes from facing Russians or Belarusians competing as neutrals.


The new policy says Ukrainians cannot face athletes who "represent the Russian Federation and Belarus".

Smirnova was competing as a neutral. Ukrainian tennis players have been playing Russians and Belarusians since the invasion, but as individuals not representing their country.

They too have avoided shaking hands with their opponents. "They are right not to shake hands, I cannot imagine a scenario where I would," Kharlan told AFP. "We have different fronts, we also have sport which is about the fight and the struggle."

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Change in Ukrainian law

Athletes under Ukrainian national status, once barred from international competitions with Russian and Belarusian athletes present, are now allowed to take part in competitions where those athletes show no representation of their countries. The Ministry of Youth and Sports lifted the restriction on Wednesday. 

Earlier, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that 203 countries were invited to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, but not Russia and Belarus. But the IOC left it possible for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the Olympics under a neutral flag.


In April 2023, the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine banned representatives of Ukrainian national teams from participating in international sports competitions in which athletes from Russia and Belarus take part. For violation of this order, sports federations in Ukraine could deprive athletes of their official national status.

Because of this ruling, Ukrainian athletes missed a number of important international competitions: the world judo championship and several qualifying starts at the 2024 Olympiad, the personal European fencing championship, and several qualifying starts at wrestling and chess tournaments.

However, Wednesday, July 26, the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine published a new order, which changed the text of the order banning the participation of Ukrainian athletes in competitions where colleagues from Russia and Belarus were present, which had been in force for almost 3 months.

Now participation for Ukrainians is prohibited only in competitions where Russians and Belarusians perform under their national flag, use national symbols, express their belonging to Russia or Belarus by actions or statements.


On Thursday, July 27, fencer Olha Kharlan became the first athlete representing Ukraine to compete against a Russian or Belarusian since Russias invasion last year when she took on Anna Smirnova on Thursday at the world championships.

Smirnova was competing as a neutral.

Six-time world saber 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 or shake her hand at the end of the contest.

According to the rules of the International Fencing Federation, refusal to shake hands means a black card that is, exclusion from competitions. And the fight is considered unfinished until the rivals shake hands.

When Smirnova approached the Ukrainian fencer, Kharlan put forward her saber and said something to the Russian fencer. Then Kharlan left the strip.

Anna Smirnova stayed on the fencing strip for almost an hour after she lost to Kharlan, trying to achieve a technical victory due to the lack of a handshake from the Ukrainian. However, the judges didn’t change their original decision – Kharlan won 15:7.

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Comments (5)
Joseph Swanson
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No one should ever be forced to shake hands...especially communist russian filth who wears a hat with a star, based on the red star, which is a hate symbol.
Thomas Davie
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This should be a lesson to The Olympics; do not allow Russians to participate, even as netrals
I support
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This is so upended and stupid. Why would she shake hands with her enemy . So good on yah your still a winner. Fuck these turds.

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There is no need for this language be civil. @I support,
Arthur Turnbull
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Bravo Olha Kharlan, the true winner and the true victor. The International Fencing Federation has a Facebook page - if you agree that this is unjust, why not go to their Facebookpage and shown the World what you think of this Fascist loving organisation. Glory to Ukraine.
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The Russian fencer represents her despised country of oligarchs. She should not expect civility.
Bravo to the Ukrainian athlete who stood on principle. She is still the winner of the match.