Athletes from around the world have voiced support for war-torn Ukraine ahead of the upcoming Beijing Winter Paralympics, with some already in China expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian team that arrived Wednesday.
French Alpine skier and Paralympic champion Marie Bochet said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was "very disappointing," and she wanted to send "some love" to the Ukrainian people.
"I just want to send my support to the Ukrainians, and I know how lucky we are to ski and be free here in the Paralympic Games," said Bochet after training at the Yanqing National Alpine Center on Wednesday.
The National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine said in an email Wednesday that its national team had arrived in Beijing after a tiring journey.
An earlier tweet by the International Paralympic Committee had indicated that the team, comprised of 20 athletes and nine guides, would arrive in the Chinese capital in time for Friday's opening ceremony.
Ukraine's Paralympic Team together earlier today before boarding for #Beijing2022.— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) March 1, 2022
There are 20 athletes and 9 guides in Ukraine's team. #WinterParalympics pic.twitter.com/HAld7pHkxd
"I hope they can also enjoy the Paralympics and can get (into) the feeling, but I think it's really hard," German para Alpine skier Anna-Lena Forster said.
Ukraine is scheduled to participate in two events, para biathlon and para cross-country skiing, both to be held in the Zhangjiakou competition zone.
Oksana Masters, a multi-medal-winning American Paralympic rower and cross-country skier of Ukrainian descent, expressed her support for Ukraine on Twitter last Thursday, the day Russia invaded its Eastern European neighbor.
"My heart & soul is Ukrainian & American. Tonight my heart is breaking for my country of birth & the people of Ukraine. Forever & always I'll #StandWithUkraine," tweeted Masters, who is set to compete in Nordic skiing events during the Beijing Games.
One of my favorite parts of competing at Paralympic games is I’m always side-by-side with these two flags. My heart & soul is Ukrainian🇺🇦 & American🇺🇸. Tonight my heart is breaking for my country of birth & the people of Ukraine. Forever & always I’ll #StandWithUkraine 💙💛 pic.twitter.com/eJt4lDg0Rc— Oksana Masters (@OksanaMasters) February 24, 2022
On Monday, advocacy group Global Athlete released a video on Twitter featuring Ukrainian athletes calling for the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians from international sports, including the March 4-13 Beijing Paralympics.
The group had earlier helped coordinate an open letter signed by hundreds of athletes from Ukraine and other countries to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and his counterpart in the IPC, Andrew Parsons.
Global Athlete has been asked by the Ukrainian Athletes to post this video addressed to the #IOC and #IPC.— Global Athlete (@GlobalAthleteHQ) February 28, 2022
100's Olympians and Paralympians support suspending the Russia and Belarus NOCs
Olympians and Paralympians support by email: email@example.com@heraskevych pic.twitter.com/Q4pnEVM7Fa
The national Olympic committees of the United States, Britain, Germany and Canada have also issued calls to exclude Russia and Belarus from international sports.
When asked whether she felt Paralympians from the two countries should be banned, Forster replied, "Well, I think that's really difficult because the athletes are not the bad guys."
The team's press officer Nicolas Feisst said Germany asked that Russia and Belarus be banned to spare Ukrainian athletes from having to compete against them in Beijing.
"But we don't think that can do anything for what's happening at the moment, so it's difficult for us to answer," he added.
The IPC decided Wednesday to treat the two nations' Paralympians as neutral competitors, competing under the Paralympic flag. This follows an IOC recommendation that international sports federations and event organizers bar Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials.
Alexey Bugaev, a Russian para Alpine skier and three-time Paralympic champion, declined to comment on the issue after training in Yanqing on Wednesday, saying, "I can't talk about this subject."
Russia, Belarus athletes to compete in Paralympics as neutrals
IOC recommends ban on Russian, Belarusian athletes over Ukraine war
Sporting world condemns Russia's invasion of Ukraine