February 13, 2023
Volodymyr Androshchuk grew up in Letychiv, a modest village of 11,000, with a brickworks, a dairy, and a construction materials factory. He spent his childhood competing in track and field and earned a place on Ukraine’s national team. He was training for the 2024 Olympics in Paris in the decathlon, the ultimate test of all-around athleticism and ability. But after last year’s invasion by Russia, he enlisted. On January 1 he turned 22 and on January 25 he died of schrapnel wounds in Bakhmut, 900 miles east of his village. The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine issued a brief statement: “A promising athlete and a true hero. He could have been able to participate in the Olympic Games in Paris, if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine. Why do Russians still have this privilege?”
On the day Androshchuk was killed, the International Olympic Committee [IOC] announced it would allow Russian athletes to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris under a neutral flag, as they have done before following doping scandals. Its decision represented an unjustifiable bow to a terrorist regime that has weaponized athletes for years as propaganda tools.
Ukraine and several other countries now threaten to boycott the 2024 Games, and all nations should unless Russians and Belarusians are banned. “The Russian state has chosen the path of terror, and that is why it has no place in the civilized world,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week to 35 international sports and government ministers who back a ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the 2024 Olympics. “How many Russian athletes have spoken out to condemn the terror unleashed by their state? In fact, there is almost no such condemnation. There are only a few isolated voices that are fading away.”
For years, Russia has made a mockery of the Olympics and its values by doping its athletes and using the Games as cover for their misdeeds and military invasions. In 2008, Georgia was invaded during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. In 2014, Ukraine (Donbas and Crimea) was invaded during the Sochi Winter Games, and in 2022, during the Beijing Winter Games, Russia prepared to launch a second invasion of Ukraine which took days after the Games ended. Commented a group of athletes: “The Russian state will again use athletes to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine.”
Androshchuk isn’t the only elite athlete murdered by Russia. Last March, the International Biathlon Union mourned the death of a 19-year-old Ukrainian athlete, Yevhen Malyshev, who died in battle. And Ukrainian Olympic figure skater Dmytro Sharpar, only 25, died near Bakhmut, the day after Androshchuk did. “The International Olympic Committee [IOC] is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ukrainian figure skater Dmytro Sharpar, who had competed at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, and all the members of the Olympic Community in Ukraine who have lost their lives in this war,” the IOC statement said. “The IOC extends its most sincere condolences to their families and friends and the Ukrainian people.”
The IOC has also stated that its decision to allow Russia and Belarus to compete under fake flags is “non-negotiable”. That is why nations, participants, networks, sponsors, and athletes should boycott the Games as well as all sporting and cultural events. And Russians, who have not rejected Putin’s war, have forfeited the right to appear in hockey games, soccer matches, concert halls, ballets, galleries, operas, symphonies, movies, or recording studios. Last year, Russian conductor Valery Gergiev was fired from the Munich Philharmonic, as was Anna Netrebko from the Bavarian State Opera, after refusing to denounce the invasion of Ukraine. All Russian athletes and artists around the world must be asked to denounce this war or leave the playing field or the stage.
Casualties now reach a peak. Putin’s generals send waves of untrained conscripts and convicts against artillery to try and penetrate Ukraine’s defenses. On February 10, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported killing roughly 1,000 Russian soldiers per day and hundreds of Ukrainians, while undisclosed, die daily. Meanwhile, Putin celebrated the 80th anniversary of the recapture of Stalingrad, now St. Petersburg, in 1943 from the Nazis. At a recent ceremony, he praised that battle — the most barbaric in history — where 1.1 million Soviet soldiers, 500,000 Germans, and 300,000 civilians perished.
Putin’s war against Ukraine has thus far killed an estimated 137,000 Russians and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. In recent weeks, Bakhmut has become an abbatoir for propaganda purposes. Its population of 77,000 has already fled and the city has been reduced to ashes, but tens of thousands of soldiers die there because Putin hopes to celebrate the first year of his invasion on February 24 with Bakhmut’s capture.
Russia shows no signs of remorse, retreat, or willingness to negotiate, and the West, by allowing its athletes and artists to perform around the world, sends a message that genocide, invasion, and war crimes are somewhat tolerable. Worse, for the Olympics to exempt one nation from the rules, and let its athletes compete under fake flags, is a disservice to all others. It undermines the Olympic values of “excellence, friendship, and respect”, not to mention the fact that Russia’s serial drugging of athletes, young or old, endangers them and encourages others to do the same. Last year, a young Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, dazzled the world but tested positive in Beijing for a banned substance.
But in 2024, as Zelensky said, the fake flag that will be hoisted for Russian athletes who win will be “stained with blood”.