Anastasiia Laletina, 19, decided not to compete in the middle-distance seated para biathlon after hearing the news, a spokesperson for the athlete told AFP News.
“Her father is a soldier in the Ukrainian army and (was taken) prisoner by Russian soldiers. They beat him,” Nataliia Harach told the news agency. “She was very upset and couldn’t take part in the race.”
Laletina is one of 20 Ukrainian competitors that flew to China for the Paralympic Games, which began on March 4. The Ukrainian Paralympic team is widely regarded as one of the most competitive in the world, and participants have stated that their participation in the tournament may help bring prominence to their country during the war.
“We’re here to represent our country, to glorify our country, to tell the world that Ukraine exists,” Oksana Shyshkova, who won Ukraine’s fourth gold medal in a cross-country ski event on Monday, according to the New York Times.
The president of Ukraine’s Paralympic Committee, Valerii Sushkevych, told the Times that while the athletes have struggled to sleep and are yearning for information about the situation, most have remained defiant in their sport.
“Our soldiers have battles in Ukraine,” in an interview on Monday, Sushkevych stated. “We, the Paralympic team, have our battles in Beijing. If we did not come here, it would be like losing position, like capitulation.”
So far at the Games, the Ukrainian team stands slightly behind China in terms of overall medal count, with six gold, seven silver, and four bronze medals. Laletina is still registered to compete in the forthcoming para cross-country skiing event, according to the Paralympic website, however it is unclear if she will compete.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) followed many other global sports organisations in prohibiting Russian and Belarus competitors from competing last week.
“Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable,” while announcing the decision, IPC president Andrew Parsons stated.
“To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce. You are victims of your governments’ actions.”
Russia and Ukraine have been at odds for two weeks, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s launch of a full-fledged invasion of the country on February 24. At least two million people have fled Ukraine so far, with over 1,000 civilians killed, making it Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.