At the 2022 Olympics, Ukrainian athlete Heraskevych made headlines with his protest against war. Today he warns that the next competitions must not become a show for Russian propaganda.
Wladyslaw Heraskewych has just thrown himself down an ice channel at around 130 kilometers per hour when he delivers a message to the cameras: “No War in Ukraine.” With this protest, the Ukrainian skeleton professional caused an international stir at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Just a few weeks later, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
The attack also changed the sports world. Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from international competitions. Last December, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed participation in this year's Summer Games in Paris under certain conditions.
Heraskewytsch still competes in skeleton at a world level. Today marks the second anniversary of his protest.
At the 2022 Winter Olympics, Heraskewych will give the cameras a clear message: “No war in Ukraine.”
“Stadiums, athletes and coaches are targets of missiles”
tagesschau.de: It was exactly two years ago that you protested against the looming war in Ukraine at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Russia's full-scale invasion began around two weeks later. How has your life changed since then?
Vladyslaw Heraskewych: I started to look at the sport differently. As an athlete, you usually just do your competitions and think that's your whole life. But when you see how Russia uses sport in politics, you start to pay more attention to this influence.
tagesschau.de: Has the war made you a more political person?
Heraskevich: Our whole life consists of politics. In times of war, the influence is felt even more. Does sport in Ukraine have nothing to do with politics? Yes, he did. Our stadiums, athletes and coaches are targets of missiles. We don't live in an imaginary world where we can separate such things. Today's reality is a total invasion.
Vladyslaw Heraskewytsch is a skeleton professional, a member of the athletes' commission of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee and, through his own foundation, supports Ukraine with relief supplies, money and sports activities for children. He has already taken part in the Winter Olympics twice.
“Dark times for Ukrainian sport”
tagesschau.de: What is the state of sport in Ukraine?
Heraskevich: The situation is quite difficult. We have lost many swimming pools, halls and stadiums. Sports facilities were occupied in Donetsk and Crimea. However, such facilities can be rebuilt. The greatest loss is that of human life. These are very dark times for Ukrainian sport.
We will continue to feel the effects later on when a new generation of athletes will not be there because they do not have stadiums. They lack the opportunity to exercise.
“This is absolutely unacceptable”
tagesschau.de: The IOC has allowed so-called neutral athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in the 2024 Olympics in Paris under certain conditions. What do you think of it?
Heraskevich: I completely disagree with the IOC's decision. I don't like how they're trying to wrap this permission into Olympic values. In my opinion, the conditions for participation are not sufficient.
tagesschau.de: One of them is: no active support for the war.
Heraskevich: What does that mean? “Active support” can mean anything. Is one post on social media enough? Or when you celebrate the occupation of Crimea on a stage with Putin? And what about military contracts? I don't understand how the IOC wants to check this. There is no transparency. These criteria simply exist, but they are not followed by the IOC and international federations. For me this is absolutely unacceptable.
Participation under conditions
Russian and Belarusian athletes are admitted to the 2024 Olympic Games as so-called neutral athletes. They are only allowed to compete as individual starters. The national anthems of the countries will not be played, and national symbols and flags are also prohibited.
In addition, these athletes must have no connection with the army and security organs and must not have actively shown their support for the war. The anti-doping guidelines must be met.
As an additional requirement, the IOC requires all athletes to make a written commitment to the Olympic Charter and thus also to the “peace mission of the Olympic Movement”.
“Sport in Russia calls to support the war”
tagesschau.de: How do you think Russia uses sport?
Heraskevich: All previous competitions have been like a war for Russia. They used every opportunity to win more medals and didn't care about any rules. Sport is there for Russia to improve its own image. Shortly before the occupation of Crimea in 2014, the world gathered at the Winter Games in Sochi.
Sport in Russia also calls for people to support the war. A For example, Taekwondo Olympic champion made a video with the main goalto raise money for the Russian army. Ukrainian media has collected evidence on more than 600 athletes from Russia and Belarus.
tagesschau.de: What kind of evidence is this?
Heraskevich: This starts on social media, for example with posts supporting the war or photos with propaganda symbols such as the letter “Z”. This also includes events with Russian and Belarusian politicians, for example.
Russian athletes know Ukrainians, they know people from different countries, from Germany, from the USA. You were abroad. And they can understand that all this madness they hear in the Russian media is wrong.
“Hopefully without Russian athletes”
tagesschau.de: There are only five and a half months left until the Summer Games in Paris. What kind of Olympics are you expecting?
Heraskevich: Hopefully there will be peaceful competitions without Russian athletes. But if things stay as they are now, for me there will be a crack in the Olympic spirit.
It is still important for Ukraine not to give up this platform, otherwise Russia will use it for its own benefit. I think we should show our protest. These competitions must not be turned into a show for Russian propaganda.
The interview was conducted by Jonas Hüster, tagesschau.de