Biathlete denies ‘traitor’ claims after renouncing Russian citizenship
Biathlon competitor Lydia Zhurauskaite has dismissed suggestions that she has betrayed Russia by giving up her citizenship and moving to represent Lithuania.
It was confirmed earlier in July that Russian President Vladimir Putin had granted a request from Zhurauskaite to revoke her Russian citizenship so that she would be clear to represent the Baltic state.
The 23-year-old hails from Murmansk and previously competed for her home region at events, but has Lithuanian roots.
Despite the fact that Zhurauskaite had not received a call-up to the Russian biathlon national team at any level, some figures had claimed that she was turning her back on a potentially promising career for her homeland
Two-time Olympic biathlon champion Dmitry Vasilyev said that Zhurauskaite would come to “regret” her decision, although he said she had the right to choose.
Elsewhere it was pointed out that Zhurauskaite had already been training with the Lithuanian team, and that her prospects with Russia would have been far more limited ahead of the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in Italy.
Zhurauskaite herself has now set the record straight in an interview with Russia’s Match TV.
“I was invited to the [Lithuanian] team in May 2020, when Covid was still raging, and nothing was clear about my future sports future,” said the biathlete.
“The team coach contacted me, then I had a conversation with the president of the Lithuanian Biathlon Federation. They found me in the lists of all-Russian competitions, they just saw a Lithuanian surname.
“Then we began to collect documents, and in March 2021 it became known that I would be given citizenship, since it is very difficult to obtain it in Lithuania.
“Immediately after that, I was invited to the training camp, and since May 2021 I have already been training with the Lithuanian team.”
Zhurauskaite categorically denied that she was somehow guilty of betraying Russia.
“All the talk that I am a traitor, that I fled Russia and left only because there are no prospects here now is complete nonsense,” said the skier, who is hoping to fulfill her dream of competing at the 2026 Winter Games.
“I will even say this: in Lithuania, financially, I receive less than in my region, so it’s not even about money.
“I just wanted to test myself [in new competitions], especially since they are really interested in me.”
The debate surrounding Russian athletes changing their citizenship has intensified amid the sweeping international bans imposed as a result of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Some figures, such as State Duma Deputy Roman Teryushkov, have claimed that it is akin to treason if Russian athletes swap allegiances to represent other countries.
The Kremlin, however, has suggested it does not support that kind of thinking.
The likes of former Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka have also argued that everyone should have a freedom of choice, and that circumstances differ.
The International Biathlon Union (IBU) is among the federations to impose a blanket ban on all Russian and Belarusian competitors, announcing the decision in March. The organization later suspended the membership of the biathlon federations from the two countries.
The Russian Biathlon Union filed an appeal against the bans with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.