Pole vault legend Bubka thanks Japan, other nations for supporting Ukraine

Hidetoshi Tanaka/Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Sergey Bubka competes in the pole vault during the 1997 World Championships in Athens.

PARIS — Former world pole vault record holder Sergey Bubka, who is Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee president, thanked Japan and the many nations of the world that have supported his home country while it has been under attack by Russia.

Sergey Bubka

“The world supports us, we feel it — the solidarity around Ukraine is unprecedented,” Bubka wrote in response to written questions from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

A gold medalist at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Bubka said he was in Kyiv on Feb. 24 when Russian troops began invading Ukraine.

“I heard how the bombs started falling,” Bubka wrote. “Almost immediately, I got in touch with the office of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, we coordinated our actions, agreed on what needs to be done” for Ukraine’s sports.

Subsequently, the 58-year-old Bubka, who is also the vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, lobbied the International Olympic Committee and other groups to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions as well as to create the IOC Solidarity Fund to support Ukrainian athletes among others. Belarus has been helping Russia conduct its invasion of Ukraine.

The solidarity fund has reached $7.5 million (about ¥1.1 billion).

The Japanese Olympic Committee “transferred money to the solidarity fund to help Ukrainian athletes — we are very grateful for that,” Bubka wrote.

“We have already implemented more than 100 projects supporting Ukrainian Olympians thanks to the IOC Solidarity Fund. More than 3,000 athletes and coaches left Ukraine after the start of the war in order to be able to continue training and compete in international competitions,” said the four-time Olympian and six-time world champion.

He added that Ukrainian athletes have thus been able to win many medals at international competitions.

Road to reconstruction

At the IOC General Assembly in May, Bubka said that 51 Ukrainian athletes had died since Russia’s invasion.

“It is clear that there were even more dead and wounded,” he wrote. “I don’t want to talk about it in the language of numbers — it’s very painful.”

Damage to sports-related facilities in the country is estimated to be about $160 million (about ¥23 billion).

“People die every day, not only soldiers, but also children and women — the civilians,” Bubka wrote.

“IOC President Thomas Bach announced that a special recovery conference will be held later this year, where all participants of the Olympic movement and sponsors will be able to participate in the reconstruction of sports infrastructure in Ukraine,” he wrote. “This will help our athletes to return to full training and performances at home as soon as possible.”

As for a message to the people of Japan, where he is known as “Chojin” (Birdman) for his pole vaulting exploits, Bubka said: “The Japanese once again showed themselves brilliantly last year during the organization of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, managing to do everything at the highest level in extremely difficult conditions.

“I want to wish the people of Japan happiness, prosperity, peace and only the best in the future. And your athletes should always achieve the desired results.”