Illia Kovtun has called for Russian people to speak out against the war in Ukraine ©Getty Images

Ukrainian gymnast Illia Kovtun has suggested Ivan Kuliak did not compete with dignity and sportsmanship during the Gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, where the Russian wore a symbol supporting his nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kuliak was pictured on the podium for the men's parallel bars event displaying the letter "Z".

The letter Z has been seen on Russian military vehicles and artillery during the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Kovtun had won the event and admitted he had not initially when the symbol worn by the Kuliak, who now faces disciplinary action from the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

Kovtun told International Gymnast Online that it had been difficult to compete at the event due to the war at home and with Russian participants, with the 18-year-old criticising Kuliak’s gesture.

“My family and coach raised me to be responsible for my people,” said Kovtun, winner of parallel bars titles at consecutive World Cup events.

“I consider myself a good person, therefore I behaved and behave in a civilized manner and in solidarity with everyone, with respect.

"It was not easy to compete with the Russians, but at that moment we all were convinced that sports is out of politics.

"Unfortunately, the Russian guy Ivan showed something completely different - not the ability to compete with dignity and sportsmanship, but mixed sports with politics."

Ivan Kuliak potentially faces a lengthily ban after wearing the controversial Z symbol ©YouTube
Ivan Kuliak potentially faces a lengthily ban after wearing the controversial Z symbol ©YouTube

Kovtun thanked other nations for their support to Ukraine, while he encouraged Russian people to speak out against the war and not be "constantly zombified".

Kuliak’s decision to wear the "Z" symbol has beenwidely condemned outside Russia, with Italian gymnastics legend Jury Chechi, the Olympic 1996 rings gold medallist, telling the news agency ANSA that it was the gesture of "an imbecile".

The Russian gymnast, however, has been unrepentant, claiming earlier this week that he would do the same thing again.

Russia's Ministry of Defence has reportedly claimed the Z symbol means "For Victory".

Kuliak received military training with the Russian army last year.

Several Russian gymnasts have defended his actions, claiming Kuliak had been "provoked" by the decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events.

The ban came into force on Monday (March 7), with FIG following recommendations from the International Olympic Committee.

The organisation had allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete neutrally at the World Cup in Doha, where the controversy occurred.

Russian Gymnastics Federation coordinator Valentina Rodionenko and two-time Olympic champion gymnast Svetlana Khorkina, now a colonel in the Russian Army, were quick to defend Kuliak.

Four-time Olympic champion Alexei Nemov was among the former Russian gymnasts to defend the controversial action.

"I have always said that in competitions it is important to treat any opponent with respect," he said.

“But what to do when you do not see the reciprocal respect from the other side? 

"When are you openly provoked? 

"When they demand to be suspended from participation for what flag is on your passport?!

"van Kulyak did what he saw fit at the World Cup in Doha.

"He stood up for himself as best he could! Considering how Russian athletes are being treated now, this is not surprising.

"All our guys now I can only wish firmness of spirit, we must withstand this pressure! 

"Be above everything!"