On Monday, a Russian world champion powerlifter publicly responded to a video message from former bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said last week the Russian government was lying to its citizens to further its war in Ukraine.
In his March 17 video, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger described how his father was part of the Nazi German army that invaded Russian during World War II and how his father had been “pumped up on the lies of his government” but was wounded in combat and grew disillusioned with the Nazi cause. Schwarzenegger said his father spent the rest of his life in pain, including from the “guilt that he felt.” Schwarzenegger said that, like his father, Russian troops were being led into a morally unjust war.
“The Russian government has lied not only to its citizens, but to its soldiers. Some of the soldiers were told they were going to fight Nazis. Some were told that the Ukrainian people would greet them like heroes. And some were told that they were simply going on exercises. They didn’t even know that they were going into war. Some were told that they were there to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. None of this is true,” Schwarzenegger said in his March 17 video message. “The fact is that Russian soldiers have faced fierce resistance from the Ukrainians who want to protect their families and their country.”
On Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a video it recorded with Russian powerlifter Maryana Naumova, responding to Schwarzenegger.
Naumova began by recalling a meeting she had with Schwarzenegger at the 2015 Arnold Classic competition in the U.S. after she set a world record in her age category.
“You were congratulating me, asking about Russia, and I was crying with joy. You seemed so thoughtful, kind and smart to me,” Naumova said. “You left me an autograph on the sleeve of your branded jacket, and it remained with me, as a good memory of our meeting.”
The Russian powerlifter, who has set 15 world records in her age category, then said she had toured separatist-controlled areas for eastern Ukraine, which have been fighting with Ukrainian government forces since 2014. Naumova said she met with school children from the pro-Russian Donbas region and they gave her letters for her to share with Schwarzenegger. Naumova claimed she spoke with Schwarzenegger about the school children in the Donbas region and handed him an envelope with the letters.
“You said then, ‘Ukraine, yes, yes, I know. I’ll take a look, I’ll work on it,’ and handed the envelope to your assistant,” Naumova said. “Mr. Schwarzenegger, I watched your message to my fellow Russians. Obviously, you didn’t ‘work’ on the letters I gave you, even though you promised. You are a wonderful motivator, athlete and actor, you are really loved in Russia, but your message is based on some other invented reality.”
Naumova went on to specifically reference Schwarzenegger’s comments about his father, who fought for Nazi Germany.
“I would like to remind you – your family once was already deceived by Nazism, and your father came to my homeland with a gun, killing and maiming my compatriots,” Naumova. “It was this mistake that caused your poor childhood. It was because of this mistake that your father did not like Russians until the end of his life.”
She also addressed a comment in Schwarzenegger’s video about how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish. She said despite Zelenskyy being Jewish, Nazis in Ukraine were to blame for years of violence in Donbas, where she said 14,000 civilians had been killed since 2014.
“The fact that Mr.Zelensky, as you say, is a Jew did not save those people,” Naumova said. “Nazism has no ‘nationalty,’ the world ‘Nazism’ didn’t come from the word ‘Germans.’ Russophobia is as terrible as anti-Semitism.”
Naumova then said she would return to the Donbas region, and called on Schwarzenegger to also visit the area, noting he visited U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Mr. Schwarzenegger, please, find and reread the letters, that the children of Donbas wrote to you back in 2015. In the near future, I’m going to visit the Donbas schools again,” Naumova said. “Arnold, I’m sure it’s no more frightful and dangerous there, than it was in Iraq – I invite you to see everything with your own eyes.”