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How will Ukrainians and Russians coexist at the Paris Olympics?

Olympic rings are set up at Trocadero plaza that overlooks the Eiffel Tower, a day after the official announcement that the 2024 Summer Olympic Games will be in the French capital, in Paris, France, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017.
Olympic rings are set up at Trocadero plaza that overlooks the Eiffel Tower, a day after the official announcement that the 2024 Summer Olympic Games will be in the French capital, in Paris, France, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. | Michel Euler

Ukrainian officials are telling their country’s Olympic team to stay away from the Russians and Belarusians competing as neutral athletes during the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

A series of recommendations from Ukraine’s sports ministry and national Olympic committee were released last week “to protect Ukrainian athletes from provocative situations and to promote the safety of the representatives of the official delegation of the national team of Ukraine to the Paris Games,” according to a translation of a Facebook post.

The recommendations include not just avoiding contact at the athletes village and any other Games locations, but also distancing themselves “as far as possible” from Russian and Belarusian athletes during medals award ceremonies. The Ukrainian athletes are also to refrain from participating in press conferences, interviews, photos or social media with the Russians and Belarusians there.

“Any attempts at provocative actions” are to be reported to Ukrainian officials, according to The Kyiv Independent, which also reported the “recommendations relate to contacts with representatives of aggressor countries, as well as other persons who support the policies of these countries and may be used for propaganda purposes.”

The recommendations come as Ukrainian athletes continue to die in a war started in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Olympic weightlifter Oleksandr Pielieshenko, 30, who narrowly missed medaling in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro but held two European championships before being banned from the sport, was killed Sunday on the frontlines, ESPN reported.

More than 400 Ukrainian athletes have been killed and some 500 sports facilities damaged or destroyed in the fighting, a top Ukrainian Olympic official said last December, after the International Olympic Committee announced Russians and Belarusians would be allowed to compete in the Paris Olympic as neutral athletes under “strict eligibility conditions.”

The conditions set by the IOC spell out there won’t be any “flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications of Russia or Belarus” displayed during the Olympics. Athletes or support personnel “who actively support the war,” or who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies, are not be eligible to participate.

In March, the IOC barred the Russians and Belarusians who qualify as neutral athletes from the opening ceremonies’ parade of nations, set to be held aboard boats on the River Seine. Previously, both Russia and Belarus were left off the guest list for the Paris Games, so no officials from those countries will be attending.

Ukraine has long protested the participation of athletes from Russia and neighboring Belarus and even talked of possibly boycotting the Games in Paris but is now sending 89 Ukrainian athletes who have qualified to compete at the Olympics, their coaches, and members of Ukraine’s official delegation, according to The Kyiv Independent.

Russia has also pushed back against the conditions its athletes are competing under, announcing plans to counter the Olympics with “Friendship Games” this fall with a winter version to follow. The move was slammed by the IOC as “a cynical attempt by the Russian Federation to politicize sport.”