World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said on Monday he had visited Ukraine and met the country's athletes to show them he "was in their corner" as the Paris Olympics approaches.

Coe held talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky and attended the national athletics championships in Lviv at the weekend during the visit to Ukraine, which is fighting the Russian invasion for a third year.

In a call with international media after returning, Coe said he had fulfilled a promise he had made to Ukrainian athletes that he would visit them in their beleaguered homeland.

"I wanted them to know that I was in their corner. This wasn't about politics and passports, it really wasn't. It was about a commitment to go and see them and to let them know we think about them.

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"I understand a lot more than I did about the circumstances they confront every minute of the day and for that I'll forever be grateful," Coe said.

Fewer than 30 Ukrainian track and field athletes will be going to the Paris Games, which begin on July 26, from a team that three or four years ago would have numbered around 70, Coe said, underlining the "massive impact" that the war had had on sport in Ukraine.

He added he had discussed with Zelensky mainly how to fund the development of under-20 athletes in Ukraine.

"The biggest attritional period in our sport is 18 to 20" in any country, Coe said, even without the "complexities" of life in Ukraine.

British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 15 July 2024
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British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 15 July 2024

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He said he had chatted to an athlete "who doesn't have a coach at the moment because they're on the frontline, or female athletes that are worrying about brothers or husbands".

World Athletics has imposed a blanket ban on Russian competitors from taking part in the track and field programme at the Paris Olympics because of the invasion of Ukraine, while other sports are allowing selected Russians to compete as neutrals providing they meet certain criteria.

Coe said that decision "isn't one individual view, it is the unanimous view of the 26-member Council".

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- Steadfast in Russian ban -

World Athletics said in a statement Zelensky had thanked Coe for the ban on Russian athletes.

"Thank you for your strong steps and decisions. Russia needs to feel that its terrorist war will cause its athletes to be treated accordingly. And that the price for this war is very high," he said, according to World Athletics.

Coe said he hoped circumstances might eventually allow Russians to return to international track and field, but added that "nothing I witnessed tells me that the decision we've taken is anything other than the right decision... on behalf of our sport.

"I don't make judgements about other sports.... as a democrat I have to accept some federations will be making decision that will stand behind that they also think are in the best interest of their sport and they're different from ours."

Coe also invited Zelensky to attend athletics at the Paris Olympics later this month as his guest.

This is the second year that World Athletics has funded Ukrainian athletes in a scheme aimed at keeping them in training and competition.

The Italian, Turkish and Portuguese federations have provided training camps on their soil.

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