Ukrainian contingent gets warm welcome as Winter Paralympics open in Beijing
BEIJING— Ukrainian athletes were given a warm welcome on a chilly Beijing evening as the Winter Paralympics opened on Friday, after Russian and Belarusian athletes were sent home on the eve of the Games over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons made an impassioned call for peace during the ceremony at the Bird’s Nest Stadium that was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” Parsons said.
That phrase was not translated into Chinese for viewers of state broadcaster CCTV.
China, which has developed increasingly close ties with Moscow in recent years, has refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine or call it an invasion.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, on the same day that China and Russia announced a “no limits” strategic partnership.
The run-up to Friday night’s ceremony was overshadowed by the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, who were denied entry following threats of boycotts by other participating countries.
Belarus has been a key staging area for the full-scale invasion Russia launched on Ukraine just over a week ago.
The opening ceremony featured a number of performers with disabilities and concluded with a dazzling fireworks display and the lighting of the flame by visually impaired former para athlete Li Duan.
A total of 564 athletes will compete in 78 medal events at the Games, which close on March 13.