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Ukrainian Elina Svitolina calls for a total ban on Russians at the 2024 Paris Olympics

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian tennis player and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina pushed for a complete ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Paris Games in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Svitolina, who won her singles bronze medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, is traveling to Ukraine for the first time since Russia invaded the country last year.

She is the latest to call for a complete ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus due to the war.

“It’s going to be very sad, and the wrong message would be sent to the world if the Olympics stayed with the decision to put them (Russia and Belarus) under a neutral flag,” Svitolina said in the interview. “I don’t think it’s the right decision.”

Ukrainian tennis player and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina has pushed for a complete ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris 2024 Games.

Svitolina, who had a baby with husband Gael Monfils in October, said sports and politics in Russia are inseparable. “You can see that in Russia sport is tied to the government,” Svitolina said.

On Friday, Ukraine’s sports minister renewed his threat to boycott the Paris Olympics if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete and said Kyiv would pressure other nations to join.

A meeting of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee did not commit to a boycott but endorsed plans to try to persuade international sports officials over the next two months – including a discussion of a possible boycott. The leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also urged the International Olympic Committee to ban Russia and said a boycott was a possibility.

Speakers at the Ukrainian Olympic Committee meeting raised concerns about Russia’s use of the Paris Games for propaganda purposes and highlighted the close ties between some athletes and the Russian military.

“Boycott would be one of the options because obviously what the Russian military is doing to the Ukrainian people, to Ukraine, it’s a horrible thing for us,” Svitolina said. “I can’t imagine going to the Olympics like nothing happened in Ukraine.”

Svitolina said the decision to boycott should be discussed with the country’s Olympic committee with input from every Ukrainian athlete involved. She, however, wasn’t shy about saying what she thought was the right thing to do.

“Our men and women are on the front line right now fighting Russian soldiers and dying for our country and for our freedom as well,” Svitolina said. “And I’m very firm in my decision that a boycott is the right way to do it.”

After a month-long hiatus, Svitolina said she is “actively preparing” to return to tennis in April. Her first visit to Ukraine marks the longest time she has been separated from her daughter.

“Of course I want to be with her, but I have a bigger mission for the free Ukrainian people,” said Svitolina, who came to the country as an ambassador for United 24, the president’s platform. Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy to collect charitable donations.

During her brief stay, she also met Zelenskyy.

On Tuesday, Svitolina went to one of Kyiv’s maternity wards to donate a generator, which is necessary for the operation of the hospital. The country’s hospitals have often been disrupted by massive Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

She said this week’s visit triggered the feelings she had in the early days of the invasion.

“It was extremely stressful for me. I was still playing on the circuit at the time, participating in some tournaments. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t live my life normally. It was a horrible time for me,” she recalls. “The visit to the maternity ward really reminded me of what I was going through and how strong these women are.”

Originally from Odessa, which now suffers from frequent power outages due to damaged electrical infrastructure, Svitolina said February 24 – the date that will mark one year since the start of the invasion – will forever be a tragic day for every Ukrainian.

“It’s something you would never want your enemy to face,” Svitolina said. “It’s a very sad day.”

The Huffington Gt

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