Ukrainian athletes defend their country and demand sanctions against Russia | Sports News

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By EDDIE PELLS, National AP Writer

Earlier this month, Ukrainian skeleton rider Vladyslav Heraskevych held up a sign at the Olympics: “No war in Ukraine”. On Sunday, he was entrenched about 150 kilometers (93 miles) outside his country’s capital with weapons nearby in case he needed to defend his country.

“I’m a student,” the 23-year-old said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t have experience in this stuff. But I’m ready to stay strong and help in any way I can.

As Russian troops surrounded the capital of Kiev, Heraskevych was among some four dozen athletes from Ukraine and elsewhere who sent an open letter to Olympic and Paralympic leaders urging them to immediately suspend the Olympic and Paralympic Committees. Russian and Belarusian.

“Russia’s Belarusian-backed invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the Olympic and Paralympic Charters – a violation that must be met with severe penalties,” reads the letter to IOC President Thomas Bach. , and his International Paralympic Committee counterpart, Andrew Parson.

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The letter said more Ukrainians would have signed the letter, but “it has been a challenge to speak with all Ukrainian athletes as they seek safety in bomb shelters.”

Advocacy group Global Athlete helped coordinate the letter, which was also signed by sliders from the United States, Latvia and the Netherlands, members of the Russian fencing team and the Belarusian Federation of sports solidarity athletes.

The International Olympic Committee condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it violated the Olympic truce. He called on international federations to cancel or move events planned in Russia and Belarus and to stop using the countries’ national flags and anthems.

However, neither the IOC nor the IPC have taken direct action against the countries themselves. The Paralympics begin next Friday. Neither federation immediately responded to the AP’s requests for comment on the letter.

Among the signatories to the letter was Ukrainian freestyle skier Oleksandr Abramenko, whose hug with a Russian athlete in Beijing was caught on camera and made headlines.

Heraskevych’s “no war” banner was too. After that gesture on Feb. 11, the IOC came out quickly and said Heraskevych would face no punishment for breaking the Olympic rule that limits political protests on the playing field at the Games.

“It was a general call for peace,” the IOC said in a statement. “For the IOC, the case is closed.”

Heraskevych told the AP he left China in mid-February with cautious optimism; at the time, Russia was gathering troops along the Ukrainian border but had not invaded.

His hopes were quickly dashed. He spoke to the AP from Zhytomyr, about a two-hour drive from Kiev. He was preparing to defend the capital of Ukraine if called upon.

“It’s calm now,” Heraskevych said. “But there is no safe place in Ukraine at the moment.”

Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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