Beijing Winter Paralympics begin with calls for peace in Ukraine

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Ukraine delegation marches into the Bird’s Nest during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games on Friday.

BEIJING — The 2022 Winter Paralympics started in Beijing on Friday with the opening ceremony, even as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine.

A decision to not allow para athletes from Russia and Belarus, which has aided Moscow in carrying out its military operations, to participate in the Games was made only on Thursday.

During the opening ceremony, the Ukraine delegation appeared fourth in the parade of nations entering the Bird’s Nest National Stadium in Beijing on Friday night. When the Ukrainians appeared, a large roar and hearty applause came from the invited guests in the stadium. The Ukrainians seemed to give off a stern impression. Some raised their fists.

“The world must be a place for sharing, not for dividing,” International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said in his speech during the ceremony. As he wrapped up, he clenched both fists and yelled, “Peace!”

At a press conference on Thursday, Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said: “I want to say that we came from Ukraine and because of Ukraine … Our army is on its own front, defending Ukraine. Here — in Beijing — we have our own front.”

According to the Ukrainian committee, commercial flights from Ukraine were suspended from Feb. 24, the day the invasion started. Athletes and other delegation members left Kyiv by bus, traveling 1,600 kilometers to Italy via Poland, Slovakia and Austria. The group of 54 athletes and staff then flew from Milan, arriving in Beijing just a couple of days ago.

For some athletes from Ukraine, they don’t known if their family is safe.

Vitaliy Luk’yanenko, who will compete in biathlon, is from the eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv, where damage from missile attacks has been increasing. He has been unable to contact his family since last confirming his wife and daughter were driving near a drugstore in the city.

“Many members of our team barely got out from under the bombs that are in Ukraine today,” Sushkevych said. “[They] do not leave their phones because they are in constant contact with their family.”

Russia, Belarus athletes’ sentiments

Through Wednesday, the IPC had planned to allow para athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in the Beijing Paralympics as individuals not representing their country. But on Thursday, the IPC completely reversed the plan, deciding to exclude these para athletes.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus posted their mixed feelings on social media.

Russian Nordic skier Ivan Golubkov said that sports should be separated from politics, while compatriot and fellow Nordic skier Aleksei Bychenok, who competed in the Tokyo Paralympics last year, said he was going home, adding an emoji of a crying face.

Belarusian Yury Holub, a biathlon gold medalist at the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics, said he respects all people, inducing Russians and Ukrainians, and he is against war.