Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lamenting the Lack of Olympic Truce for Sochi Olympics

Dmytro Mystak is an 18 year old downhill skier for Ukraine.  The day before his first Olympic ski race, there was organized violence against Euromaidan protesters at Independence Square in his native city of Kyiv.   The Euromaidan protests demanding an end to corruption and tyranny were attacked by paramilitary forces.  At least 25 people were killed and 1,000 persons injured.  And Mystak is supposed to compete in this environment.

Mystak's lament about the lack of an Olympic truce is a reasonable reaction for an athlete.  While Mystak's sympathies are clear, the skier does not want to politicize the situation.  Sergey Bubka, the head of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee also urged his countrymen for an Olympic Truce.  Bubka wrote 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 IOC prohibited Ukrainian Olympic athletes from wearing black armbands to commemorate the loss of life at Independence Square presumably to maintain neutrality, which also would not embarrass the Sochi Winter Olympics host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is closely aligned with Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.

[L] Russian President Vladimir Putin [R] Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovch

  Some Ukrainian athletes were willing to sacrifice their chance for glory which they trained for years by intentionally missing their events in protest of the bloody crackdown in Kyiv.   Marina Lisogor and Katerina Serdyuk failed to appear for their cross country team sprint semi-final race.   Andre Sannikov, a prominent opposition leader from Belarus, indicated that it was a gesture originating in the prohibition on black armbands.

A  Facebook statement indicated that Bohdana and Oleh more explicitly refused to perform at Sochi in solidarity with the Euromaidan protesters.  Oleg and Bohdana Matsohski also refused to compete in solidarity with the protest movement.

Oleg and Bohdana Matsohski, Ukrainian Olympic Skiers 

Although  generally I am skeptical about athletes opining about public affairs, like the Protect Our Winters Manifesto, as the details of the policy are often beyond their ken.  However, it is easy to understand that Yanukovych blessed paramilitaries attacking peaceful demonstrators and violated the idea of an Olympic truce.  I am chary about politicizing the Olympics but I admire individual athletes following their consciences at great personal cost.

For those who need background information on what sparked the controversy, please see Understanding the Euromaidan Unrest at

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