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Ukrainian protesters burn a cars outside a Security Service headquarters in Lviv, western Ukraine, early Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital, Kiev, in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country's post-Soviet history. (AP Photo/ Pavlo Palamarchuk)
Olympics: Crisis at home felt by Ukraine athletes at Sochi
First Published Feb 19 2014 08:58 am • Last Updated Feb 25 2014 04:47 pm

Sochi, Russia • Others tried to keep it from him, but Dmytro Mytsak knew what had happened before he took to the slopes.

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On a beautiful day in the snowy Caucasus Mountains, he had more to think about than his first Olympic ski race. Back home in Ukraine, his countrymen were dying in fiery clashes between police and protesters.

"I am very mad for this, but we cannot do anything really. Change the government," Mytsak said. "Every time in the Olympics time, the war was stopped, even if the wars (were) between the other countries. They were stopped. And now in Ukraine, they are going mad. I don’t know what to say."

The thoughtful 18-year-old had more to say than most. He stood near the finish line Wednesday between runs of the giant slalom, talking not only about his wish for an Olympic truce, but how hard it was for his family back home.

"I am talking every day to them," Mytsak said. "They said, yeah it is not that bad around in the city but in the main city it is bad because they want to clean the main street from the people, but they will not do this."

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The conflict raging little more than 600 miles from Sochi couldn’t help but intrude into the games, and not just because 43 athletes from Ukraine are competing here. Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, and the close ties the current leadership has with Russia are a major part of the dispute between anti-government protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine’s Olympic Committee asked that its athletes be allowed to wear black armbands honoring those who died in the protest, saying on its website that it wants to "share deep pain over the loss of fellow countrymen" by displaying them as an "expression of sorrow and sympathy."

The IOC rejected that, saying it was not allowed under the Olympic Charter. And others said the focus of the Olympics should be solely on sports, despite the fighting in Kiev that left at least 25 dead.

"This is a competition," said Yosyf Penyak, a parallel giant slalom snowboarder from Ukraine. "No time to talk about politics."

Former pole vault great Sergei Bubka, who heads the Ukrainian Olympic Committee, urged both sides to put down their weapons and find a way to end the violence that he said is bringing the country to "the brink of catastrophe."

"All of we have families at home. This last night was very tough because we follow what’s happened," Bubka said in Sochi. "It happens in this moment when Olympic Games are going on, the most beautiful, and most democratic and most peaceful event. I would say everyone is really worried, everyone is really under pressure, but they would like to continue to compete to send a message home to bring to dialogue all parties."

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