Beijing (AFP) – The arrival of Ukrainian athletes at the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing is a ‘miracle’, the team’s senior official said on Thursday, with bombs narrowly falling as they were gone during the Russian invasion .
Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said his team had been overwhelmed with solidarity since arriving in the Chinese capital the day before and the athletes were determined to compete.
“I can say it’s a miracle that we managed to be here at the Paralympic Games,” he told reporters.
“The easiest way for us would have been not to go to the Paralympic Games. But we couldn’t give up and not come.”
On Thursday, a week after Moscow sent its troops across the border to neighboring Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee banned Russian athletes from competing in the Games, reversing an earlier decision.
The IPC said many countries had expressed support for Ukraine and threatened to boycott the event if Russia was allowed to compete.
Sushkevych noted that his team’s presence in Beijing would lift the spirits of those living in terror back home.
“A superpower wants to destroy my country. And our presence here at the Paralympic Games is not just a presence. It is a sign that Ukraine was, is and will remain a country,” he said.
“For us, it’s a matter of principle to be here, it’s a symbol to show that Ukraine is alive.”
The logistical nightmare of leaving the country meant he slept on the floor of a bus for several days.
“A lot of our team members had difficulty evading the bombs,” he said.
The Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous winter Paralympic events, with frequent podium finishes in biathlon and ski competitions.
The delegation won 22 medals in 2018, including seven gold medals, the sixth highest total in the world.
As the biathlon events begin on Saturday, team members are now focused on the job at hand: preparing for the competition.
“There are two front lines right now. One is in Ukraine for our soldiers. And the other is here in Beijing,” Sushkevych said.
The biathletes hit the slopes for skiing and shooting practice in Zhangjiakou on Thursday.
While their fellow citizens took up arms to defend themselves, the biathletes fired at targets on carpets in the snow, one using a bright pink pistol with flowers painted on it.
For some team members, the emotional roller coaster and disturbed focus will be a case of deja vu.
During Russia’s hosting of the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014, Ukrainian athletes had to contend with Moscow’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula.
© 2022 AFP