Ukraine athletes defend country and demand sanctions against Russia

Vladyslav Heraskevych, a Ukrainian skeleton rider, flashed a sign during the Olympics that read: "No wars in Ukraine." He was also hunkered down 150 km (90 miles) outside his nation's capital, with weapons close by in case he needed to defend his country.

Ukraine athletes defend country and demand sanctions against Russia

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, the 23-year old said that she was a student. "I'm not an expert in these types of things. However, I'm ready to help you in any way that I can.

Heraskevych was one of a growing number of athletes from Ukraine, along with about two dozen other nations, who sent an open letter to Olympic or Paralympic leaders, asking them to immediately suspend the Russian- and Belarusian Olympic, Paralympic Committees.

"Russia's invasion and support of Ukraine by Belarus is a clear violation of the Olympic Charters -- a breach which must be met with severe sanctions," stated the letter addressed to Thomas Bach, IOC President, and Andrew Parsons, his counterpart on International Paralympic Committee.

The letter was signed by Paula Radcliffe, a four-time Olympian from Britain, Clara Hughes, a six-time Olympian from Canada, Greta Neimanas, two-time Paralympian Greta Neimanas, and Beckie Scott. Scott is the Canadian Olympic champion, who served a long time as the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete commission.

The letter listed the names of 34 Ukrainian athletes, with many signing on behalf their entire sports federations. Although the letter stated that more Ukrainians would sign, it said that "it has been difficult to speak with all athletes of Ukraine since they are seeking safety at bomb shelters."

The letter stated that "If IOC or IPC refuses to act quickly, you are clearly encouraging both Russia and Belarus violation international law and your own Charters."

Global Athlete, an advocacy group, coordinated the letter. It was also signed by sliders from the U.S.A, Latvia, and the Netherlands, as well as members of the Russian fencing club, an independent German athletes' group, and the Belarus Sport Solidarity Athletes Federation.

The International Olympic Committee condemned Russia's invasion in Ukraine and said it was a violation of the Olympic Truce. It has urged international federations to cancel or move events in Russia and Belarus, and to cease using their flags and national songs.

However, neither the IOC nor IPC took any direct action against these countries. Next Friday, the Paralympics begin. AP asked both federations for comments on the letter but they did not immediately respond.

Oleksandr Abramenko from Ukraine, who was freestyle skiing in Beijing, signed the letter. His embrace with a Russian skier was captured on camera and made headlines.

Heraskevych also displayed a "no war” banner. The IOC quickly responded and stated that Heraskevych would not be subject to sanctions for violating the Olympic rule, which limits political protests at the Games.

The IOC stated in a statement that "This was a general appeal for peace." "The matter has been closed by the IOC."

Heraskevych said to the AP that he had left China in February with a cautious optimism. At the time, Russia was building troops along Ukraine's borders but not invading.

His hopes were quickly crushed. From Zhytomyr (about a two-hour drive away from Kyiv), he spoke to the AP. If called upon, he was ready to defend Ukraine's capital.

Heraskevych stated, "It's quiet now." "But, there is no safe spot in Ukraine right now."