Olympic Alpine skier, Bogdana Matsotska, is going home to Ukraine. Matsotska, who has been competing in the giant slalom and super G, has decided to leave the games in protest over events back home in Ukraine. On Thursday, Matsotska posted a note to her Facebook page, expressing sadness over conflict raging in the streets of Kiev. She stated that she and her father, who is also her coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, would be returning home in a show of solidarity with people fighting on the Maidan (Independence Square) and in protest against Viktor Yanukovych, whom she labeled the “bandit president.”
There was sorrow in her words, as she described the brutality Yanukovych has inflicted on protesters on the Maidan. She accused him of drowning the last hopes of the Ukrainian people in blood, rather than solving the conflict by negotiating with protesters. Matsotska declared that Yanukovych had violated an eternal rule (dating back to ancient Greece) that there should be peace during the Olympic Games. “May the heroes killed” for the sake of freedom in Ukraine, she wrote, “rest in peace!”
Mark Adams, spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, responded with disappointment. Adams said that with 2,800 athletes competing in the games there are many with personal tragedies and some with political tragedy in their lives. Adams expressed a desire that the Ukrainians find another way to express their grief.
Another Ukrainian, Sergei Bubka, hoped the skier would not go home, but stay to continue competing in the Olympics. He appealed to people on both sides of the conflict to end the violence. Bubka is a former pole-vault champion and leader of the Ukrainian Olympic delegation. He is also a one-time adviser to Yanukovych. Bubka acknowledged the suffering of his athletes, but encouraged them to remain in Sochi to compete, saying that would send a message promoting dialogue among the parties back home in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian protests began peacefully last November, inspired by the shelving of an agreement by Yanukovych which would have facilitated greater trade with the European Union. Yanukovych opted instead for a deal with the Kremlin. The protests in Independence Square turned violent earlier this week, and rumors began to fly that Yanukovych had asked for political asylum in Russia. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, dismissed the rumors as nothing but “informational warfare.”
Instead, today Yanukovych signed a deal which include new presidential elections in December, rather than March 2015. However, many protesters, bitter over the scores of people killed and hundreds who have been injured this week’s violence, are not satisfied. They believe Yanukovych should step down immediately.
Immediately upon signature of the agreement, the Ukrainian parliament restored the nation’s 2004 constitution. Restoration of the 2004 constitution has been one of the protesters’ demands. The change resulted in elimination of extensive powers Yanukovych had given himself. He can no longer appoint the prime minister, nor fire the cabinet. Parliament has also granted amnesty to the protesters.
Some Ukraine watchers have suggested that the time may have come for the country to break up, with the division between its eastern (Russian aligned) provinces and western (European aligned) provinces. Alexander Motyl, an expert on Ukraine at Rutgers University, disagrees. It has long been suggested that the Russian speaking provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk (called the “Donbas”) and Crimea are the economic engine of Ukraine. But Motyl claims the situation is actually quite the opposite. Calling the Donbas an “economic black hole,” and a drain on Ukrainian resources, he proposes that Ukraine would actually be much better off if the eastern provinces left.
Motyl said the Donbas is a rust belt populated with “a retrograde part of the population,” which he likened to the United States’ Jim Crow south. Contrary the popular notion that loss of the predominantly Russian speaking provinces would cause major hardship in the western provinces, Motyl insists that if the Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea were to split off, Ukraine would be much better off.
Despite the fact that the eastern provinces are home to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which dominates the government, Motyl believes the threat of a split is empty. He contends the area only survives by routinely shaking down the central government for infrastructure money, and that Kiev should call their bluff and tell them to go ahead and leave. Motyl is certain the Russian speaking provinces will not leave. Either way, skier Bogdana Matsotska is leaving the Olympics and going home.
By Melissa Roddy