As the curtain closes on what has been heralded as another successful Paralympics, what has been made evident is that even the world's premier sporting event for athletes with impairments is not immune from the ripple effects of the Ukraine war.
Even before the Beijing Paralympics officially opened on March 4, tensions were high as the International Paralympic Committee initially decided it would let athletes from Russia and Belarus participate as neutrals, then made a stunning about-face the next day following backlash from other countries.
When announcing the course change, IPC President Andrew Parsons explained that while the committee did not want governments to influence its decisions, "the rapidly escalating situation" had put it "in a unique and impossible position."
While Ukraine reaffirmed its status as a Winter Paralympic powerhouse during the games by winning 29 medals and finishing second on the medal table only to host country China, many athletes remained unable to shake off the dark mood that pervaded the past 10 days.
Vitalii Lukianenko, who won two gold medals and a silver in para biathlon, revealed that all he could think about was whether his home would still be there when he returned to Ukraine.
"We want to focus the attention of European society on the war and the situation in Ukraine, and ask for your help to stop this war," he said.
Another athlete, Anastasiia Laletina, whose father was taken prisoner by the Russians during fighting in Ukraine, pulled out of a competition, saying she was no longer in a mental state to compete.
It also remains uncertain what awaits Ukrainian athletes when they return to their home country, where the war continues to ravage cities and the people who inhabit them.
Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych told Kyodo News earlier in the week that while everyone hopes to be reunited with their loved ones as soon as possible, it will not prove an easy task.
"We haven't even found a place to stay until our return to Ukraine," said Sushkevych.
For athletes from other parts of Europe, the conflict also hits too close to home.
"My mind can't understand this situation because, in my eyes, in the modern world, I can't understand this situation. It's horrible," said Czech para Alpine skier Pavel Bambousek.
Members of the Czech Paralympic team were seen making the two-finger peace sign during the opening ceremony athletes' parade, which Bambousek explained was done to show support for Ukraine.
With the events in Ukraine feeling a world away from the safety of the games' high-security coronavirus bubble, the 37-year-old said he was not sure he felt excited about going home as the situation "will fully hit me."
Ilma Kazazic, one of two para Alpine skiers representing Bosnia and Herzegovina in Beijing, also empathized with the Ukrainians, saying current events are reminiscent of the Balkan War that shook her home country some 30 years ago.
"I think people are afraid of the new war. And we feel (for) the people from Ukraine," Kazazic said.
Even after the Beijing Paralympics close, the IPC still faces a potential legal battle should Russia and Belarus appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over their exclusion from the games.
Some athletes have argued the decision to exclude the two countries was contrary to the philosophy of diversity and coexistence that is a key pillar of the Paralympics.
Martin Motyka, who guided visually impaired Alpine skier Slovak Henrieta Farkasova to two gold medals at the Beijing Games, said he feels sport and politics should be kept separate.
"My opinion is that (the Russian athletes) shouldn't have been sent home. I think they should have competed," Motyka said. "Paralympic games are a good example of how people from around the world connect."
Regardless of personal views on political matters, or lack thereof, all athletes remained hopeful that sport can play a role in establishing peace.
Swedish para Alpine skier Ebba Aarsjoe, who won women's standing slalom gold in Beijing, said "Sport brings happiness and it brings people together," while visually impaired Croatian Alpine skier Damir Mizdrak said "We are here for sport, and that's only what matters for us here."
Kazazic stressed that athletes are the best ambassadors for their countries, saying that despite what happened in the past in her region, through sports "We have a great friendship with people from Croatia, from Slovenia, from Serbia. We are all like friends. We don't have issues."