Ukrainian artistic swimmers Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva have spent years training for Paris 2024 but their Olympic dreams hang in the balance after the government decided to block its athletes from competing in qualifiers if they include Russians.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recommended Russians and Belarusians be allowed to return to international competition as neutrals since their ban after last year’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
The IOC will make a separate decision on their participation at next year’s Games, which Ukraine has threatened to boycott if they are allowed to compete there.
“If (Russian athletes) go, we won’t go,” Vladyslava told Reuters. “We don’t want to meet them, and we cannot meet them. In general, all the federations … should do everything they can to not let them (take part).”
The 21-year-old Aleksiiva twins were among thousands who fled the eastern city of Kharkiv last year after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
The sisters, who won Olympic bronze in the team competition in Tokyo, had a successful 2022 in the pool, winning two golds at the worlds and six more at the Europeans in team and duet events.
Russian athletes competed as neutrals in Tokyo after a Russian doping scandal, involving revelations of a state-backed system across many sports, following the 2014 Sochi Olympics led to IOC sanctions.
“If the IOC allows Russia to take part in the Olympic Games, then these Games are not about peace anymore,” Vladyslava added. “They were under the neutral flag in the last Olympic Games and it didn’t change anything, they started a war.”
Despite the possibility of missing out on Paris, the twins have stuck to their rigorous training in Kyiv and spend seven hours a day preparing for World Cup events in France and Egypt in May.
Russia and Belarus were banned from entering the championships last year.
The sports complex in Kharkiv where they previously trained was damaged by a missile in September and their training sessions are often interrupted by air raid sirens, they said.
“You’re not as focused during the training as you used to be,” Maryna added. “When we face difficulties during the training, we understand that our warriors have it much more difficult.”