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KYIV, Ukraine — More than 3,000 Ukrainian athletes joined the fight against Russia's invasion of their country and more than 100 of them have been killed, according to Ukraine's Minister of Youth and Sport.
Vadym Guttsait, who is also president of the Ukrainian fencing federation, announced the losses in a letter earlier this month to national and international fencing officials and urged the sport to continue banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in official competitions, the French sports website, francjeux.com reported.
Russian fencing officials have gone to court to battle the ban, recommended by International Olympic Committee leaders shortly after Russia launched an attack on Ukraine in late February. But a request to allow Russian fencers to compete as "neutral" athletes was rejected by the international fencing federation.
In the letter, described by the French website, Guttsait recounts the horrors of war.
"Russia continues its bloody war against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," Guttsait wrote. "Every day Russia bombs the cities of Ukraine, not the military targets, but the homes of civilians. A considerable number of Ukrainian men, women and children die every day because of Russian attacks."
He said more than 3,000 Ukrainian athletes "went to war to defend their country," and more than 100 have already died, naming the father of Olympic gold medalist saber fencer Olena Khomrova, and a disabled athlete, Volodymyr Motylchuk, both killed in the same southern Ukrainian town, Mykolayev.
At the same time, "No Russian or Belarusian athlete spoke out against the war," Guttsait said in the letter the French website said he signed as president of the Ukrainian Fencing Foundation, calling for the ban to be kept in place until the conflict ends.
"The Ukrainian Fencing Federation believes that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to participate in international tournaments only after the end of this bloody war," he wrote.
Guttsait, the Olympic saber team champion at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, said thousands of young Ukrainian athletes have left their homes to escape the war. The athletes, now relocated around the world, including in Utah, can't train under aerial attacks and artillery fire, he said.
So far, 111 sport facilities have been destroyed by Russians, including one of the nation's largest fencing centers, located in Kharkiv, Guttsait said.
IOC President Thomas Bach surveyed some of the damage and met with athletes during a visit to Ukraine in July at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Before leaving Ukraine, Bach promised more financial support and encouraged the country to bid again for a future Winter Games.
"We are with you with our hearts, with our thoughts every day, and we want to support you to make your Olympic dreams come true," Bach told a group of about 100 athletes gathered at Ukraine's Olympic Training Centre in Kyiv.
Zelenskyy had been preparing more than a year ago to bid for a Winter Games as soon as 2030 to help transform Ukraine's mountains into the "Alps of Eastern Europe." Salt Lake City, along with Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada, are competing for the 2030 Winter Games, set to be formally awarded by the IOC next year.