17 year-old Russian weightlifting champion Maryana Naumova is on a bizarre tour through President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. In a country of more than 400,000 casualties and nearly 7 million displaced people, the teenage tourist is gushing over new friends and new cities, posting glorified pictures of her experiences on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook.
In Damascus, “couples are walking on the streets, kids are playing soccer in the street near the hotel—all only a few miles away from a war zone,” she posted to the delight of her 85,000 followers. Aleppo is “without water, without light and heat, but the main thing, without terrorists! I see barrels of water, generators, and cleanliness on the streets.”
Caption: Naumova poses in front of a restaurant poster of Assad in Maysaloon, a neighborhood of Damascus.
Naumova, an ardent member of Russia’s Communist party who has “fully endorsed” Russian President Vladimit Putin’s campaign in Syria, has been dubbed the “princess of the barbell” and the “strongest girl in the world” since she first start weight lifting at the age of 10.
She has commented on world events on social media, and has cheerfully documented her adventures of crossing into war-torn Syria. According to her social media page, she first flew to Beirut, before traveling to the Syrian border with the help of a local friend. She then crossed into the war-torn country “in a military jeep accompanied by several Hezbollah fighters,” she said.
Translation: “Chariots of the desert …
A few kilometers on our right are “Jabhat Fath al-Sham,” on our left is ISIS.
About 100 kilometers to Aleppo!
Let’s get to work, brothers!”
In her trip to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city which has been in the grip of a brutal war since 2012, she reinforced her praise for her country’s involvement in the war.
In late December 2016, thousands of civilians fled Aleppo as Syrian government forces, supported by Russian air strikes, retook the city. The joint Syrian-Russian coalition killed more than 440 civilians, including more than 90 children, and was accused of war crimes by the international NGO Human Rights Watch.
Naumova posted cheerfully about “old Soviet machine guns that helped ward off militants from an ISIS checkpoint a few hours ago, chasing them across the field and destroying them.”
But it’s not Naumova’s first time getting involved in controversial world politics.
In 2015, after setting the world record in weight-lifting and earning a hug from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Naumova toured rebel-held eastern Ukraine on a self-described pesace mission. She’s also visited North Korea, which she said “wasn’t as bad as they said, nobody took my phone or made me eat dog,” in an interview with NBC News.
She visited Syria previously in 2015 on the invitation of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, who introduced her to local children, athletes and female soldiers.
As of Sunday, Naumova continued to post on her social media page from Aleppo, to the adoration of her fans.
Translation: “In training.”