The bloody conflict raging over 600 miles northwest of Sochi is taking center stage for Ukrainian athletes competing at the Winter Olympics.
For 18-year-old downhill skier Dmytro Mystak, whose parents and grandparents live in Kyiv, the ongoing clashes hit close to home. The day of his first Olympic ski race comes less than 24 hours after tensions erupted in Kyiv’s Independence Square — dubbed EuroMaidan by demonstrators — between Ukrainian riot police and protesters that has so far left at least 25 dead.
"I am very mad for this, but we cannot do anything really. Change the government," Mytsak said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Every time in the Olympics time, the war was stopped, even if the wars (were) between the other countries. They were stopped. And now in Ukraine, they are going mad. I don't know what to say."
Sergey Bubka, president of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine and former pole vault champion, called for an “Olympic truce” in hopes of ending the deadly violence.
“I’m shocked by what is happening in my native country — especially because the violence is taking place during the Olympic Games — the world’s most peaceful and democratic event,” Bubka said in a statement on his website. “I am once again urging all parties to stop the violence! There is no 'their' Ukraine, or 'your' Ukraine. It is OUR Ukraine.”
The NOC of Ukraine also released a statement, calling for peace.
However, the International Olympic Committee rejected a request from Ukrainian athletes to wear black armbands in mourning, saying it was not permitted under the Olympic Charter. IOC President Thomas Bach expressed his condolences to the victims of the violence in Kyiv and praised the competitors for continuing to represent their country in Sochi.
“The way they have continued to represent their nation with great dignity is a credit to them and their country," Bach said. “Their presence here is a symbol that sport can build bridges and help to bring people from different backgrounds together in peace."
According to the BBC, two Ukrainian female skiers failed to appear for their semi-final at the Sochi Olympics today. Marina Lisogor and Katerina Serdyuk, who haven’t made a statement to the media, were expected to compete in the women's cross-country skiing Team Sprint Classic semi-finals.
While their absence has not yet been confirmed to be an act of protest, Andrei Sannikov, a former diplomat and prominent opposition leader in Belarus, took to Twitter to voice his solidarity and respect for the skiers.
Few of Ukraine’s 43 athletes competing in the Sochi Games have voiced their opinions on the conflict in Kyiv.
Yosyf Penyak, a parallel giant slalom snowboarder from Ukraine said that the Olympics are a competition, and are, "No time to talk about politics."
After competing in the short program, 20-year-old Ukrainian figure skater Natalia Popova said, “I hope my skating can inspire people back home,” AFP sports journalist Emmeline Moore reported.