Ukrainian Olympic hero Oksana Baiul issues statement of support for protesters

Ukrainian Olympic hero Oksana Baiul issues statement of support for protesters

SOCHI, Russia — Another athlete has come out in support of Ukrainian protesters in Kiev. It happens to be one of the most beloved Olympians in that nation's history.

Oksana Baiul, who became the first skater to win Olympic gold for Ukraine 20 years ago this month, put a statement about the protests on her website on Friday morning.

"The people of the Ukraine are fighting a vicious battle against organized crime, corruption and the forces of evil," Baiul wrote. "While we shook the Soviet yoke in 1991, many of the corrupt, communist apparatchiks unfortunately managed to hold onto their positions. The crime and corruption continued but the Ukrainian people have finally had enough and are bravely making their stand."

A Ukrainian Alpine skier left the Olympics early, along with her coach and father, as a show of solidarity with the protesters, but Baiul is by far the highest-profile athlete with Ukrainian roots to speak up to this point. She was hailed as a national treasure when she won gold in 1994, in the same year the figure skating world was caught up in the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga.

[Related: Johnny Weir braids hair in tribute to Ukraine violence victims]

Baiul's statement also leveled criticism at "Entertainment Tonight," for what she said was a "bait and switch" after she consented to do an interview with the show.

"I had agreed," she wrote, "subject to you allowing me to also use the interview to raise awareness to the more than 70 people killed and 600 injured in the Ukraine in their fight against Ukrainian government corruption."

Baiul went on to assert that the interview did not touch upon that topic.

The conflict in Ukraine has worsened considerably over the past several days, with hotel lobbies being made into makeshift care centers for the wounded. There have also been photos of bodies in the streets. Talks between Western diplomats and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych went on through the night Thursday, but as yet there has been no agreement. Dozens have been killed in the violence and hundreds injured.

[Related: Pussy Riot members attacked by Cossacks while staging protest in Sochi]

The crisis can be traced to Yanukovych rebuffing a trade agreement with the European Union late last year. That has exacerbated a rift between the more Western-leaning segment of the population and the East, which has tended to be more sympathetic to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, who has aligned himself with Yanukovych.

Baiul was raised as a Russian Orthodox Christian in what was then the Soviet Union. She won gold at age 16 and moved to the U.S. She is now 36.

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