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Russian authorities accused of driving martial arts champion to suicide

Oleg Sorokanyuk died by suicide shortly after his gym became the subject of a criminal investigation. 

Law enforcement in the Transbaikal region in Russia have been accused of driving a local martial arts champion to suicide.

Oleg Sorokanyuk’s body was found on Nov. 10. at a local children’s martial arts school that he founded earlier this year. The 32-year-old’s death was ruled as a probable suicide, though reports have since emerged shedding light on the circumstances leading up to the athlete’s death.

According to local Transbaikal new outlet Chita,ru, which first broke the story on Sorokanyuk’s passing, the athlete’s death took place shortly after he was interrogated by local law enforcement over allegations that one of his trainers had physically assaulted several children during a summer camp at his facility.

The reports were later confirmed by Transbaikal Minister of Sports Andrey Seredkin, who clarified that Sorokanyuk was merely a witness in the case.

“We talked with him, and Oleg said that the case did not concern him,” Seredkin said. “He was only there as a witness. In my opinion, there are more questions for another guy, whose name is Andrei.”

In October 2022, a criminal investigation was launched into Andrei Yemtsov, a 24-year-old former student of Sorokanyuk who was later hired as a trainer for the children’s summer martial arts camp. Yemtsov was accused of assaulting two young children with his first, as well as a rolling pin.

While Sorokanyuk, who also served as the president of the Federation of Pankration and MMA in Transbaikalia, was not named as an assailant, he was criticized by the authorities for hiring a trainer with no prior experience teaching martial arts or children.

“The junior coach who did not have a pedagogical education, having taken on the functions of an educator, systematically beat two young boys,” the Trans-Baikal Territory Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement. “Employees of the sports school, by verbal agreement, without drawing up an employment contract, allowed outsiders who do not have the skills to work with children to work with children.”

Elena Khzanyan, the journalist who first broke the story for Chita,ru and whose own child trained under Sorokanyuk, accused local authorities of driving the athlete to suicide through their ongoing investigation—a view that was reiterated by Sorokanyuk’s family.

“He did not have the strength to fight against the system,” Khzanyan said on the VKontakte social network. “I really want all caring people who know Oleg not to ignore this.”

Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Transbaikalia and the local prosecutor’s office refused to comment on the situation or confirm whether an investigation will be conducted into the actions of the employees involved in assessing the criminal case.

Sorokanyuk was a three-time Russian and European champion in universal karate, as well as an avid practitioner of sambo, taekwondo, kickboxing and judo. He leaves behind a wife and a young daughter.