Ukraine: 133 athletes and coaches have died in war as country marks six months of conflict
This year, Ukraine’s Independence Day marks exactly six months since Russia invaded and began a bloody war that continues to rage across the country.
“The flag will no longer be hoisted and the anthem will no longer be played in honor of the athletic victories of deceased athletes,” wrote Youth and Sports Minister Vadym Gutzait.
“Russia invaded Ukraine and committed suicide. 133 athletes and coaches died on the battlefield and under enemy shelling.”
CNN is unable to independently confirm the number of deaths of Ukrainian athletes and coaches.
Archer Dmytro Sydoruk “died defending Ukraine”. After being injured in 2014, Sydoruk represented Ukraine at the first-ever Invictus Games – an event for wounded soldiers founded by Prince Harry – in 2017 and won a silver medal in archery.
He was the coach of the National Invictus and Warrior Games, as well as a coordinator of the Invictus team in Lviv at the time of his death.
“He always tried to help all veterans who united around sports,” Ukraine’s Sports Committee said in a tribute.
“He passed on his skills to the children in training, a highly valued teamwork and a veteran sports environment.”
Ivan Bidnyak, a former silver medalist at the European Shooting Championships, was also killed while fighting in the Kherson region at the age of 36. He represented Ukraine at the World Championships and was the first Ukrainian to compete in shooting at the London 2012 Olympics.
The devastating and protracted conflict has claimed the lives of many civilians as well as combatants. As of August 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded 5,587 civilian deaths in Ukraine, although it notes that the actual numbers are expected to be considerably higher.
Eleven-year-old gymnast Kateryna Diachenko was reportedly killed when a shell hit her home in Mariupol on March 10 along with her father, mother and brother.
“Show a sign of defiance”
The announcement from Ukraine’s Ministry of Youth and Sports comes a day after the Ukrainian Premier League was restarted as the country tries to regain some sense of normal life.
But even these football matches will be far from normal with players ready to rush to bomb shelters in the event of air raids. Military officials rather than supporters will be present and, if the air raid sirens continue for more than an hour, they and match officials will decide whether play should continue.
“We heard a siren yesterday morning before the game,” FC Shakhtar Donetsk director of football Darijo Srna told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies after his side kicked off the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Metalist 1925 Kharkov.
“We were at the hotel, we were just getting to the stadium. When we were there, we were just praying we didn’t hear a siren for 90 minutes or else we had to go underground waiting for the siren to go off. .
“It was not a good result, but our fans are so happy and Ukrainians are so happy because we are starting to do something we love and that is playing football.”
The grim anniversary also comes as current UPL champions Dynamo Kyiv hoped to reach the Champions League but were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Benfica in the final qualifying round.
Dynamo played their home match in Lodz, Poland, due to logistical impossibilities of hosting a game in Kyiv.
CNN’s Ben Morse contributed to this story.