Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the Winter Paralympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and was immediately confronted by an emotional Ukrainian protest on a politically-charged night.
As athletes from 45 countries took part in the opening ceremony on Friday, only one Ukrainian competitor appeared in a symbolic, scaled-down presence of the country that has denounced Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
Spectators gave huge cheers and some even stood to applaud 37-year-old skier and biathlete Mykhailo Tkachenko who came through the Fisht stadium in his wheelchair.
Without a trace of a smile, Tkachenko proudly carried his country’s national flag for his 31-strong team who did not enter the stadium with him.
Ukraine had earlier said it would refrain from any political protests during the ceremony, and paralympic committee head Valery Sushkevich even said he had to persuade a teenage athlete against expressing her anger at Russia.
Ukraine had also decided that they would not boycott the Games which run until March 16.
Some Western countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have not sent government delegations in protest at Russia’s Crimea intervention.
In what appeared as a taunt towards the US, organisers played a popular 1990s Russian song called “Good-bye, America” when the Russian team closed the parade.
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