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The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

Olena PavlovaNews
Famous Ukrainian biathlete Olena Zubrylova moved to Belarus in 2002

At the 2024 Biathlon World Championships, which ended in the Czech Republic, Ukraine's national team won no medals but showed its potential for the future. Our most titled shooting skier at the world championships is Olena Zubrylova, a native of Shostka, who has been living in Belarus for more than 20 years, supporting Lukashenko's regime and not condemning the war in her home country, for which her former colleagues either call her a traitor or do not want to remember her at all.

OBOZ.UA decided to tell how the icon of the Ukrainian biathlon, who once attracted hundreds of boys and girls to the sections and kept millions watching, lost her face and became an outcast in her homeland, where her daughter and mother still live.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

Olena Ohurtsova was born in Shostka, Sumy Oblast, and was involved in cross-country skiing until she was 18, when she joined biathlon in 1991, it turned out that she had a real talent. The athlete's coach for a long time was Roman Zubrylov, who in 1993 became the future champion's husband.

Olena won her first World Championship medals in 1996 - second place in the team race and third place in the relay - and the following season she brought back three individual "silvers" from the World Championships in Slovakia. Twice she was beaten by the legendary Swede Magdalena Forsberg, and in the sprint she was beaten by Russian Olha Romaska.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

At the 1998 Olympics, according to the biathlete, she and her coach miscalculated the preparation of her skis, and Zubrylova was left without any awards. But by 1999, Olena had gained such a great shape that she was able to beat such stars as German Ushi Diesl, Norwegian Liv-Grete Shelbreid, Frenchwoman Corinne Niogre, and Swede Forsberg.

However, the Swede did not give the Ukrainian the victory in the overall World Cup standings - in the fight for the 1998/99 Big Crystal Globe, Zubrylova lost 11 points to Forsberg. Instead, she won the pursuit and mass start events and brought her country its first Small Globes.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

Zubrylova became the first biathlon world champion in the history of Ukraine at the 1999 tournament in Kontiolahti, Finland. Despite two misses, Olena won the pursuit, beating Martina Galinarova of Slovakia by more than a minute, who missed one target.

Zubrylova won two more "golds" that year in Holmenkollen, as the International Ski Federation was forced to move the individual race and mass start of the World Championships to Norway due to very low temperatures in Finland. They took place after the last stage of the Cup, and in both races, Olena was the first to win.

In total, the Ukrainian national team won 5 awards at the 1999 World Cup: three golds and a bronze for Zubrylova and a silver for Olena Petrova in the mass start. This allowed our team to take second place in the overall standings, behind only Germany.

In the same year, 1999, in Ruhpolding, Germany, Zubrilova made her first golden double at the World Cup. At first she was out of competition in the sprint race, and the next day she again beat Frenchwoman Corinne Niogre in the pursuit.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

Olena brought Ukraine another World Championship gold medal in 2002. Zubrylova was left without an award at that year's Olympics in Salt Lake City due to a mistake made by the coaching staff in preparing and placing the team at too high an altitude. But during the last stage of the World Cup in Oslo, medals were awarded in the mass start, which was not included in the Games program. And thanks to her clean shooting, the Ukrainian became the first.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

In 2002, Zubrilova decided to change her citizenship. According to Elena, she did not plan this step in advance, but after the Olympics, she could not find common ground with the president of the Biathlon Federation, Volodymyr Brynzak, who said that the national team no longer needed her and that if she wanted to stay, she would have to prepare at her own expense.

However, after a personal meeting with Zubrylova, Belarusian President Lukashenko allocated her an apartment in the center of Minsk and ordered her to create all the conditions for her training. And so the SSU major became a citizen of Belarus, but she was unable to win an Olympic medal for her new homeland. At the World Championships, she won one silver and two bronze medals.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

"I never thought I would have to leave. It was so hard that I didn't even take anything with me - only things for training. But I visit Ukraine very often - I have a daughter, parents, and sister there," said the biathlete in 2007, who after retirement headed the Belarusian junior national team and is now the head coach of the main team.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

After the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas, Zubrylova came to Ukraine. In 2019, she took part in the Race of Champions.

"I remember seeing biathlon competitions on TV when I was little. I liked them. Elena Zubrylova was competing at the time. One day she finished second, and the next day she won. And after a while, a coach came to my school looking for people to do biathlon. I didn't hesitate for long," Olena Pidhrushna admitted in a joint photo with Zubrylova.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

However, the idol of millions soon became a huge disappointment. The former Ukrainian biathlete compromised herself during the Belarusian protests of 2020 when she openly supported the policies of local dictator Oleksandr Lukashenko and signed a letter from pro-government athletes. And, apparently, as a bonus, she joined the NOC of Belarus.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

And then Zubrylova finally lost face when she did not condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine with the participation of her new "homeland." For this, her former teammate was shamed by 1994 Olympic medalist Valentyna Tserbe-Nesina, who reminded her that Olena's daughter lives in Kyiv, and her mother lives in Shostka, Sumy region, which is still suffering from shelling by the Russian occupiers.

Valentina Tserbe-Nesina
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

On the third day of Russia's full-scale invasion with the tacit participation of Belarus, while her homeland was being wiped off the map and her loved ones were suffering from the fighting, Zubrylova stood to Lukashenko's left at the biathlon competition in Raubichi and smiled happily.

Zubrylova with Oleksandr Lukashenko. Photo taken on February 26

"What can I say? That such a wonderful country has become a bargaining chip in someone's dirty game? People are dying, and there is no bringing them back," Olena later blurted out in an interview with zerkalo.io.

Later, Zubrylova claimed that sports had become too politicized, and it shouldn't be that way, and that world sports "will lose its greatness because Russian and Belarusian athletes will not participate in the competitions."

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

And on March 1, 2023, Zubrylova's commentary appeared, in which she hoped that "everything" in Ukraine would soon be over, and the torn country would be friends with the aggressors: "I'm in great pain. My relatives are there. It is very painful. We hope that everything will end soon, and we will live in peace, communicate, and be friends."

"The only question to this person is: why are you silent when your new homeland has been facilitating the war against your people, your mother and daughter, your golden father-in-law, who has been nursing your child from diapers for more than a year?" responded Tserbe-Nesina to her former colleague's words.

Zubrylova with Oleksandr Lukashenko. Photo taken on February 26

"This person died for me back on February 26, 2022. Yes, I congratulated her on her birthday on the second day of the war, I wanted to reach her heart. Silence, she did not answer me even privately. I have long been raising the issue of revoking all her regalia, sports and state awards of Ukraine," the 1994 Olympic medalist wrote in March 2023.

The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko
The first Ukrainian biathlon champion died for her colleagues: the legend did not condemn the war that affected her family and supports Lukashenko

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