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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Comfortless Pride

"I am very much afraid that despite our call for peace during the Paralympic Games that we will see something that could not be rectified. If there is escalation, if there is more conflict, military conflict to our territory, God forbid ... we would leave at that very second."
Valeriy Suskevich, president, Ukraine Paralympic Committee
PHOTO: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Mykailo Tkachenko of Ukraine bears the flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Fisht Olympic Stadium.
"There is nothing more precious than the life of a human being and freedom. If you ask me whether we are ready to compete with the strongest desire, yes, we are here ready to compete, we're ready to fight for Ukraine."
Grygorii Vovchynskyi, 24, Ukrainian Paralympian

2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi
Spectators of Russia and Ukraine waving flags of their countries at the Fisht Olympic stadium before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. Photo by AP
When the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Paralympic Games took place on Friday, President Vladimir Putin took time away from matters of great world concern relating to the upheaval in Ukraine and Russia's military involvement in Crimea, to make his presence at Sochi, welcoming Russia's guests at the 2014 Winter Olympics. And he was enthusiastically cheered.

For Ukrainian athletes competing in the Paralympics, it has been an emotionally trying few days while they were training in Russia, while part of their country has literally been invaded by Russian troops. But they made the decision to remain where they were, dignity and love of country intact, to represent their country now under such grave duress, with pride during the nine days at Sochi.

Ukraine's Paralympic Committee president, Valeriy Suskevich delivered a fiery address on Friday, and within that address was contained the announcement that participation would take place. "Don't let us start a war during the Paralympic Games. I really hope we can keep peace. It is not politics, it is peace", he pleaded. His team, he said had no intention of mixing politics and sport, but Ukrainians "cannot remain indifferent to the situation in our country."

The Ukrainian team is comprised of 23 athletes. they protested the situation prevailing between Ukraine and Russia by having only their flag bearer, cross-country skier Mykhaylo Tkachenko, present, to take part in the parade of athletes. Mr. Tkachenko explained to the Paralympic News Service that the team's preparations had proceeded apace. While Mr. Suskevich had described the emotions and tears of Ukraine's athletes during the flag-raising ceremony at the athletes' village.

Head of the Ukraine Paralympic team Valeriy Suskevich announces that team Ukraine will participate at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
PHOTO: Leah Hennel/Calgary Herald
Head of the Ukraine Paralympic team Valeriy Suskevich announces that team Ukraine will participate at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

He had, in fact, requested a meeting with President Putin, and had spoken with him for thirty minutes the night before. A "very calm, respectful talk", when he spoke of the need for peace in Ukraine and Europe, and his hope that during the nine-day period of the Games, peace would prevail. "The athletes have the right to have the Paralympic Games under peaceful conditions", he said.

Mr. Putin, he commented, promised nothing, other than to agree he would consider Mr. Suskevich's proposals. If tensions do escalate in Ukraine over the next week, Mr. Suskevich said, he would not hesitate to pull the athletes out. The Ukrainians had received support from athletes from other countries, a significant comfort.

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