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Ukrainian Olympic skier skips slalom in protest of government violence in Kiev

The violent conflict in their country has cast a shadow on Ukrainians at the Olympics, where one alpine skier and her father have decided to return home in protest against the government, despite efforts by their national committee to keep the competitors neutral.

Beyond Sochi, the family ties and geography that bind Ukraine and Russia have set off deep sympathy and sadness among ordinary people listening to daily reports of battles in the streets and a rising death toll. Russian authorities, aligned with Ukrainian officials, express alarm but blame the protesters, whom they see as encouraged by the West.

The Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska, who was to compete in the slalom Friday, posted a message on her Facebook page Thursday saying that she and her father-coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, would return home instead.

“We, members of the National Olympic Team of Ukraine, are outraged by the latest actions of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who drowned the last hopes of Ukrainians in blood instead of solving the conflict through negotiations,” she wrote. “He has violated the eternal rule of the Olympics — peace during the Games.”

To show solidarity with the opposition and in protest of what Matsotska, 24, called “the bandit president and his lackey government,” she said she refused to continue competing at the Olympics. She had raced in the Super-G and giant slalom.

The Post's Will Englund gives a first-person account of what it's like on the ground for protesters in Kiev. (Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

“May the heroes killed for the freedom of Ukraine rest in peace!” she wrote.

[Watch live video from Kiev]

On Wednesday, as the casualties mounted in Ukraine, a controversy developed here over whether Ukrainian competitors could wear black armbands to mourn the dead. The International Olympic Committee denied it had banned them, but it clearly was discouraging attention to the conflict and said an alternative to armbands should be found.

“There are 2,800 athletes here,” Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman, told reporters Thursday, “so you can imagine there are, sadly, a lot of people with personal tragedy in their lives, some with big political tragedy, some with personal tragedy — friends, loved ones, some athletes, some not athletes. The idea is to try to help them find other ways . . .— we understand their grief, but to find other ways — the multi-faith center, individually, to mark those moments.”

Televisions around Olympic Park were tuned to competitions, so the events in Ukraine had little presence.

Sergei Bubka, a former pole-vault champion who is head of the Ukrainian delegation and an IOC board member, had encouraged all 43 Ukrainian athletes to remain at the Games as an example for national reconciliation.

Bubka, who once served as an adviser to Yanukovych, appealed to both sides to stop the violence. The athletes, he said Wednesday, obviously were suffering because of what was happening. “But they would like to continue to compete to send a message home to bring dialogue to all parties,” he said.

The Ukrainian conflict began in November after Yanukovych backed out of a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. On Thursday, Russia said it was sending its human rights commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, to Kiev to help the government and protesters negotiate. The request had come from Yanukovych, said Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.

Peskov denied rumors that Yanukovych had asked for political asylum. “This is a false report and informational warfare,” he told the Dozhd television channel.

On Wednesday, Peskov described the conflict in Ukraine as an attempt by radicals to stage a coup, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, called the threat of European sanctions against Ukraine blackmail.

“The scariest things are happening in Ukraine now,” Anton Orekh, a Russian political commentator, wrote on the Web site of Ekho Moskvy radio Thursday. “Absence of power and absence of the alternative to power. Both sides are just one step away from starting a war against each other and there are no good ones or bad ones among them any longer.”


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