As the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics came to an end and country results were rounded up, attention turned to individual athletes.
Such was the case with 19-year old Ukrainian high jumper Yarolsava Mahuchikh, who overnight went from being celebrated for achieving a bronze medal in the high jump event to being questioned for embracing and posing for photos with Russian high jumper Maria Lasitskene after the event’s conclusion.
In the photos, Mahuchikh, a junior sergeant of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, with a Ukrainian flag draped over her shoulders, is seen smiling as she hugs Lasitskene.
Lasitskene competed as a member of the Russian Olympic Committee, a name given to Russia’s representatives at this year’s Olympics after the country was sanctioned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after allegedly running a state-backed doping program. She is also a member of her country’s Armed Forces, having received the rank of captain in the Russian army in 2019. Lasitskene was congratulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on her victory in the event.
On Aug. 9, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said she will have a meeting with Mahuchikh once she returns from Tokyo. “Athletes representing Ukraine at international tournaments must understand that the Russian-Ukrainian war is still happening in Ukraine and that places on them a certain kind of limitations and responsibilities,” Maliar said.
She said that photos of embraces with Russian athletes serve as an opportunity and an “info-psychological grenade” that can be used by Russia to weaponize the false propaganda that the Kremlin is not involved in a war against Ukraine. “Careless behavior of our athletes, whom we love and root for, can become a subject of the enemy’s information special operations,” she said.
Ukrainian karateka Stanislav Horuna, who won bronze in the men’s under 75-kilogram kumite karate category, took to Facebook to express his support for Mahuchikh. “Sport is outside of politics, for f–k’s sake! Leave athletes alone with your politics,” he wrote.
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and continues to occupy Crimea and the eastern part of Donbas in violation of international law. The Kremlin forces have also committed war crimes. Some 14,000 people have been killed in Russia’s war.
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