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Ukraine athletes protest, but compete in Paralympics despite Russian occupation

Concerns that Ukraine would be boycotting the Sochi Paralympic Games were quelled on Friday when the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee announced that — despite Russian occupation in Crimea — its team would still be competing.

Valeriy Sushkevich, president of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine, had doubts swirling early Friday morning when he said Ukraine would not be participating if Russia invaded his country. But after discussions took place between athletes and Ukrainian officials, Sushkevich confirmed: “We are staying at the Paralympics.”

Although Ukraine is remaining a part of the Games, only one of its 23 athletes appeared at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday. The rest of the team boycotted the athletes’ parade to protest Russia’s actions in Crimea.

The Paralympic chief met with Russian president Vladimir Putin Thursday night to request peace in Ukraine during the games. He said that even though he did not receive any specific guarantees, his meeting with Putin was important.

“The athletes have a right to have the Paralympic Games under peaceful conditions,” Sushkevich maintained.

But he warned that any escalation in conflict between the two countries would make him reconsider his decision.

“I declare should this happen we will leave the games,” said Sushkevich. “We cannot possibly stay here in this case.”

Ukraine’s presence at the Paralympic Games had been in question from the start due to the country’s ongoing political unrest. With Russian troops now creating further turmoil in Ukraine, three other countries — the UK, Germany, and the United States — have chosen not to send delegations.

International Paralympic Committee president Phillip Craven was pleased with Ukraine’s decision to remain a part of the Games.

“All week the [International Paralympic Committee] has been working closely with the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee in an effort to keep them here in Sochi,” he said. “The talking point of Sochi 2014 needs to be great sport and great athletes, not global politics.”

“We want all the athletes who have trained for years to reach these Games to fully focus on events on the field as opposed to off.”

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