Ukrainians sell Olympic medals to fight Russia, may get them back

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian Stanislav Horuna says Japan’s “incredible” development could help him regain his Tokyo Olympic medal, which he sells to raise money for his home country Defense against Russian invaders.

Horuna, 33, is one of several Ukrainian sports stars who have auctioned off their medals and trophies and joined the Ukrainian army to fight the Russian attack.

He told the Asahi Shimbun in his native Lviv in western Ukraine that the Olympic bronze medal he won in karate was bought by a Tokyo man who now wants to return it to karate after the war.

“I (already) thanked him,” Horuna said. “Proceeds will be used to assist the military, hospitals and other facilities of the Ukrainian evacuees.”

Horuna, 33, won a bronze medal in the men’s 75kg “team hand” sparring group at the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year.

He said that although the medal was “precious” to him, the decision to sell it was fairly easy.

“It’s not my own things that matter now, but those that concern our country,” he said. “Everyone has to fight in their own way. After sorting through my priorities, I found it wasn’t that hard to make the decision (to sell it).”

In March, Horuna and other Ukrainian athletes from various sports put their hardware on an online auction block.

Under the program, medals start at $10,000 (1.26 million yen). Some observers thought it was too cheap, as the items represented the ultimate achievement of a sporting career.

“For me, $1,000 is enough,” Horuna said. “I’ll be content, even if it’s a small amount, if our efforts get attention and raise money to help our country.”

His Olympic bronze medal fetched $20,500 in an online auction on eBay.

Mixed Feelings of Tokyo

Seeing the interviewer’s business card, Horuna smiled.

“Your surname is Nishimura. Are you related to Ken Nishimura?” he asked.

Ken Nishimura (no relation to reporters) is Horuna’s first opponent at the Tokyo Olympics.

The competition will be held at Nippon Budokan on August 6, 2021. Horuna took the lead early, but Nishimura scrambled to tie it.

“Nishimura is a great athlete,” Horuna said. “The game was tough. I almost won.”

Horuna later won a bronze medal at the Nippon Budokan awards ceremony as a precaution against COVID-19, with no spectators.

“It’s a beautiful moment, but my mood is mixed,” he said. “Certainly, bronze can be called a great landmark. Thousands or tens of thousands of athletes are competing to achieve something like this.”

He hinted that his goal was gold.

“But I kept trying to get to the top, and it took me years to prepare,” he said. “I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment. However, I was disappointed and frustrated at the same time.”

Nonetheless, the Olympic bronze medal is particularly special among the more than 200 medals he has won in his nearly 20-year karate career.

He said he was “very happy with my medal coming back to Japan” when he learned from the auction’s organizers that a man in Tokyo had bought the bronze.

“I got a medal in Tokyo,” he said. “Japan is special to me because I learned a lot there.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Horuna joined a military unit in Lviv, engaged in security operations and activities to bring residents to safety.

A month later, he was summoned by a superior officer who ordered him to resume karate training.

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are now expected to join the Ukrainian army and are generally barred from leaving the country.

However, Horuna was allowed to travel to Portugal to represent Ukraine in the 2022 Karate Division 1 Super League Matosinhos, which kicks off on April 22.

“As an individual, I’ve been trying to get to the top of the list,” Horuna said before the trip. “But I now have a bigger goal: to increase Ukraine’s presence in the international community. I want people all over the world to understand what is happening in Ukraine.”

He also thanked Japan for its help in the crisis.

“In this war, support and encouragement from far away Japan is coming,” he said. “Now that my country is in such a difficult situation, I want to say ‘thank you.'”

The most surprising thing happened in Japan, he added.

“I received a message from the Japanese buyer the other day through the auction organizer,” explains Horuna. “He wrote that he wanted to return the medal. He said that when the war is over and peace is restored in Ukraine, he will invite me to Japan to give it directly to me. Don’t you think that’s incredible?

“But that’s what Japan is like. I look forward to that day.”

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