KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) – A Ukrainian skier has withdrawn from the Olympics in response to the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country.
“I don’t want to participate when in my country people die,” Bogdana Matsotska told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The 24-year-old skier is refusing to ski Friday in the slalom, which is her third and best event at the Sochi Olympics.
Matsotska wants to leave the Olympics immediately to join protesters in the camp known as Maidan in Kiev’s Independence Square, but said she has been unable to book a flight home.
“I am in Maidan but just with my soul,” she said.
The two-time Olympian explained her frustration with Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in an interview conducted in English and Russian.
“I think as a minimum he has to be jailed, and for a long time,” Matsotska said. “For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion.
“I hope that I will be heard by the world and that probably somebody will step in and will help,” she said.
Matsotska is remaining with Oleg Matsotskyy, her father and coach, in the athletes village in the mountains above Sochi.
“We made this decision together. It is really hard for a sportsman and coach,” she said. “The people are dying and my friends and family are there and I cannot race after all this in Ukraine going on.”
Matsotskyy posted a message in Ukrainian on his Facebook page in which he assailed Yanukovych’s latest actions.
“Instead of resolving the conflict through negotiations (which we had hoped he would when we left for Sochi), he has drenched the last hopes of the nation in blood,” the message read.
Matsotska was alerted to the fresh escalation of violence in Kiev by friends on Tuesday, hours after she raced to a 43rd-place finish in the giant slalom. She finished 27th in super-G last Saturday.
She said she could not sleep Tuesday night while worrying about friends and watching footage from Kiev online.
“As every person (in Maidan), I am afraid for my life but I hope I will never, ever be sorry about this decision,” said Matsotska, who wore Ukraine Olympic team clothing in national colors of yellow and pale blue, and with her fingernails painted pale blue.
Pole vaulting great Sergei Bubka, who is the head of Ukraine’s national Olympic committee, told the AP on Thursday that he met with all the Ukrainian athletes still at the games and they plan to stay in Russia and return home as a team on Monday.
“It’s not easy,” Bubka said. “We are trying to show to the world that Ukrainian athletes are competing. We try to show the glory for Ukraine.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the Olympic body has been in touch with Ukraine’s Olympic officials following a deadly clash between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev.
Ukraine is divided over whether the nation of 46 million will have closer ties to the West or to Russia. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal for closer ties with the European Union.
Matsotska said her national Olympic committee and the IOC respect her decision. Ukraine’s NOC posted a statement on its website saying that it was “shocked” by the violence at home toward “loved ones” and is doing its “best to honor them on the fields of play here in Sochi.”
Bubka said he met with Matsotska and her father for an hour and a half to discuss their decision. He said half of the team has already gone home in compliance with their original schedule, not related to the trouble in Kiev. The remaining athletes do plan to participate in the closing ceremony on Sunday and are discussing what they can do to appropriately address the violence back home.
“We want to look and see, try to settle all the issues,” Bubka said. “What uniform should we wear? I am asking, What is comfortable for you? We will see later. Let us think. We have two days.”
The Ukrainians were not represented at team captains’ meeting on Thursday night ahead of Friday’s women’s slalom. Sarah Lewis, the secretary general of the International Ski Federation, told the AP that Matsotska’s decision was a matter for the Ukrainian NOC to address while the federation focused on the games.
“Clearly the scenes from Ukraine are shocking for us all, and clearly it has a big effect on the athletes,” Lewis said. “Judging from it, it’s more important to her than Olympic participation. It’s a personal decision that she’s taken, that she feels is her way of dealing with the matter. But we’ll focus on getting the competition done.”
AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski, John Leicester, Stephen Wilson in Sochi, and Howard Fendrich in Krasnaya Polyana contributed to this report.