SOCHI, Russia – Sergei Bubka, the pole vault great who heads the Ukrainian Olympic Committee, urged both sides Wednesday in Ukraine’s political crisis to lay down their weapons and halt the violence that is bringing the country to “the brink of catastrophe.”
“I’m ready to do everything I can to help the peaceful process,” Bubka said.
Bubka issued his call after clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters left at least 25 people dead and 240 injured in Kyiv, the worst violence in the country’s post-Soviet history.
“I’m shocked by what is happening in my native country — especially because the violence is taking place during the Olympic Games, the world’s most peaceful and democratic event,” Bubka said in a statement.
He appealed to all parties involved in the conflict to resume negotiations.
“I am once again urging all parties to stop the violence which puts our country on the brink of catastrophe,” Bubka said. “There is no ‘their’ Ukraine, or ‘your’ Ukraine. It is our Ukraine.
“Let’s do everything possible to get back to negotiations and make a compromise. … There is still a chance for a peaceful solution.”
Bubka is in Sochi, serving as an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee and president of Ukraine’s national Olympic body. Ukraine sent a team of 43 athletes to the Winter Games.
“I know that our Olympic athletes who fight for the glory of Ukraine fully support me,” Bubka said.
He urged observance of the Olympic Truce, a symbolic IOC resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly which calls on all warring parties to lay down their arms during the period of the games.
Bubka is one of Ukraine’s greatest and most acclaimed sports figures. He won the gold medal for the Soviet Union in the pole vault at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was world champion in the event six straight times.
Bubka broke the pole vault world record 35 times in his career, outdoors and indoors. His indoor world record of 6.15 metres stood for 21 years before being broken last Saturday in Donetsk, Ukraine, by Renaud Lavillenie of France. Bubka’s outdoor world record of 6.14 metres, set in 1994, still stands.
Tuesday’s bloodshed in Kyiv was the worst violence in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed the capital. The crisis dispute centres over divided loyalties in Ukraine between Russia and the West.
The violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing President Viktor Yanukovych of ignoring their demands.
Thousands of riot police armed with stun grenades and water cannons attacked the sprawling protest camp. About 10,000 people remained on the square Wednesday as piles of rubber tires continued to burn.