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Ukrainian Olympic Skier's Stand Is A Sacrifice For Her Country

Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska decided not to compete in Friday's slalom race, in a show of solidarity with protesters in Kiev.
Fabrice Coffrini
AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska decided not to compete in Friday's slalom race, in a show of solidarity with protesters in Kiev.

Sports are supposed to be separate from politics, but athletes and games can't always be kept separate from life and death.

Scores of people were killed in Ukraine this week, as the security forces of President Viktor Yanukovich opened fire on anti-government protesters in Kiev's Maidan, now called Independence Square.

While some 800 miles away, more than 40 Ukrainian athletes have been skiing, skating, working hard to win medals at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The team, coaches and officials held a minute of silence on Thursday for those who died, and added black ribbons to Ukrainian flags hanging on their balconies at the athletes' village.

One of Ukraine's skiers decided that she just couldn't keep competing at the games while blood was being shed in the streets of her country. Bogdana Matsotska, who is a 24-year-old alpine skier, chose not to compete in the slalom race on Friday. She has been training for that race, in many ways, for most of her life, and it's her best event.

There are "horrible events that are happening in the capital of my Ukraine, in the Maidan (square)," she told Reuters Television on Thursday.

"My friends are there at the Maidan, people I know, close friends of mine," she said. "To go on the start line when people are dying and when the authorities broke the main rule of the Olympic competition, which is peace — I simply cannot do it.

"I am not a political person, I am totally out of politics and political parties, but I stand against these horrible actions thatYanukovychand his government are taking against our Ukrainian people."

The young skier said, "I don't want to enter the competition under such terrible circumstances."

Do black ribbons and bowing out of a ski race change what happens in Kiev? History might tell us that such gestures have about as much — or as little — effect as strong condemnations of Ukraine's government from various world leaders or human rights organizations.

But the young men and women on Ukraine's Olympic team may one day be asked, by the next generations of athletes and by their own children, "What did you do when people were killed in Independence Square?"

With her gesture and actions, Bogdana Matsotska has represented, in life as well as games, the nation whose name she wears on her uniform, and over her heart.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.