Ukraine Violence Spurs Olympian to Withdraw from Games, Return Home

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday, Feb. 20, that Matsotska is leaving the Olympics in response to the violence in her country. (AP Photo/Alexander Roslyakov)
Alexander Roslyakov/Associated Press

On Friday, 24-year-old Bogdana Matsotska, an Alpine skier from the Ukraine, was supposed to be competing in her best event at these Olympics, the slalom. Instead, she's heading home.

Matsotska announced on Thursday that she's withdrawing from the Sochi Games in solidarity with the protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, who have been involved in a violent confrontation with riot police over the past few days.

"I don't want to participate when in my country people die," Matsotska told The Associated Press, via U.S. News & World Report.

Tensions in Ukraine have been high for quite some time, as activists have gathered in the Maidan camp in Kiev to protest, mostly peacefully, the government's growth. But on Tuesday, things turned violent when riot police attacked the protesters, killing dozens and injuring hundreds.

As gruesome images of the attacks spread around the world and death tolls continued to rise, the Olympic Ukrainian athletes searched for answers. They requested to wear black armbands in support of those who had lost their lives, but the IOC banned them from doing so. The Ukrainian Olympic Committee posted a release on their website detailing the IOC's refusal (h/t USA Today's Dan Tolken).

With reports from Maidan growing more distressing, many of the athletes headed back to the Ukraine, but that was primarily because they were already done with their competitions. Most remaining athletes, encouraged by Ukraine's Olympic committee, stayed in Sochi.

But Matsotska and her father, Olympic ski coach Oleg Matsotskyy, could not continue on. Given everything going on back home, Matsotska was unable to sleep. She couldn't separate herself from the actions. Her soul was in Maidan, she said, via the AP report.

In a passionate Facebook postMatsotska explained their decision to withdraw from Sochi: 

We, members of the National Olympic Team of Ukraine, Bogdana Matsotska and Oleg Matsotskyy, are outraged by the latest actions of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who drowned the last hopes of Ukrainians in blood instead of solving the conflict through negotiations with the Maidan—which we had hoped for till the very last when we went to the Olympics in Sochi. He has violated the eternal rule of the Olympics - Peace during the Games.

To show our solidarity with those fighting on the Maidan barricades and our protest against the bandit president and his lackey government, we refuse to further perform at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

May the heroes killed for the freedom of Ukraine rest in peace!

Glory to Ukraine and to its Heroes!!!

Sergey Bubka, the famous Ukrainian pole vaulter who is the head of Ukraine's national Olympic committee, said (per the AP) that he spoke with Matsotska before she departed. While he supports her decision, he hopes the remaining athletes will stay and compete in an attempt to inspire Ukrainians.

However, Matsotska hopes her withdrawal will garner enough press to make a difference. 

"I hope that I will be heard by the world and that probably somebody will step in and will help," she said, per the AP report.

Matsotska is far from a high-profile athlete. Now in her second Olympics, the skier finished 27th in the women's super-G and 43rd in giant slalom. While she was expected to do better than that in the slalom, she wasn't expected to get anywhere close to a medal. Still, she had earned the right to compete.

But instead, Matsotska is taking a stand. By sacrificing her chance to race in her favorite event, she's doing what she can to put the attention back on the disaster in her home country.