As protests again turn violent between Ukraine government forces and opposition protesters, the strain of the conflict is being felt by Ukrainian athletes in Sochi. Reuters reported that some of the Ukrainian Olympic team had chosen to return home.
“I believe some of them have decided to return home and [Ukraine Olympic Committee President] Sergey Bubka has said he absolutely respects every individual’s right to make their own decision,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
A Ukraine team official said Alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska and her father, who is also her coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, had pulled out. There was no information on whether they were actually departing the Black Sea resort, or if additional Ukrainian athletes had opted to pull out.
Ukraine team officials and some athletes held a minute’s silence in memory of the victims and black ribbons were added to Ukraine flags hanging on the balconies of their building in the athletes’ village.
Matsotska told the Associated Press that she was leaving out of protest for what was happening in her home country.
“I don’t want to participate when in my country people die,” [she said].
The 24-year-old skier is refusing to ski in Friday’s slalom, her third and best event at the Sochi Olympics.
Matsotska says Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych “has to be jailed, and for a long time … for all the lives that he took.”
She says “I hope that I will be heard by the world.”
In Sochi, the 43-athlete contingent from Ukraine attempted to find ways to show their support before returning home, some were more successful than others. The Ukrainian athletes were entered into nine sports: biathlon (11), cross country (8), figure skating (6), luge (6 ) freestyle skiing (6 ), alpine skiing (2), snowboarding (2), nordic combined and short track (1). From the AP on Wednesday:
Ukraine’s Olympic Committee asked that its athletes be allowed to wear black armbands honoring those who died in the protest, saying on its website that it wants to “share deep pain over the loss of fellow countrymen” by displaying them as an “expression of sorrow and sympathy.”
The IOC rejected that, saying it was not allowed under the Olympic Charter. And others said the focus of the Olympics should be solely on sports, despite the fighting in Kiev that left at least 25 dead.
From Sally Jenkins in Sochi:
On Wednesday when the IOC rejected the armband request, it did so on the grounds that it had prohibited other expressions of grief from delegations under the IOC’s charter, which mandates only manufacturing trademarks can be displayed. Earlier in the games it also forbade Canadian athletes form wearing tiny stickers commemorating snowboarder Sarah Burke, who died in a training accident. “We think that it’s a celebration place, and we don’t think that that’s the right place,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said at a daily briefing last week.
The result for some athletes was an Olympic cloistering. Natalia Popova, 20, a four-time Ukrainian figure skating champion who trains in Hackensack, N.J., said she had almost no sense of the destruction in Kiev other than brief reports from her friends and parents by phone. Her parents, who are both doctors, now live in Canada, though other family lives on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. “I don’t have a TV in my room but my friends told me it’s getting worse,” said Popova after skating her short program Wednesday night. “We just know it’s sad. You just want peace in my home country.”
Popova said she had not heard much conversation from her national teammates about the events in Kiev. “We’re not talking about this here,” she said. “Everyone is just very peaceful and supportive.” However, she said athletes were feeling mounting concern about what they would find back home – Popova is scheduled to pass through Kiev on her way back to the U.S. “The ice dancers weren’t sure if we could fly back,” she said.
Though the IOC banned the armbands from competition, the Ukrainian delegation chose to honor the injured and dead on their own.
Ukraine’s Olympic Committee says athletes held a moment of silence in Olympic Village today wearing black arm bands to honor Ukrainian dead— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) February 20, 2014
One spectator at the bronze medal women’s hockey game sported the Ukraine colors painter over her lips.
It’s worth noting that some are pointing out that the athletes who have chosen to leave have already competed in their events.
All of the Ukraine athletes who have returned home are said to have completed their events at the Sochi Winter Olympics.— Richard Conway (@richard_conway) February 20, 2014