With a Crimea referendum less than a week away, DW asked athletes, coaches and visitors to Sochi for the Paralympic Games how they see the current crisis in Crimea.
Both Germany and Britain have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to remove his soldiers from Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula as a deepening divide continues across the region in the lead-up to Sunday's (16.03.2014) referendum on whether Crimea will vote to be annexed by Russia.
Athletes, coaches and visitors to Sochi for the Paralympic Games had this to say about the current situation:
Oleksandra Kononova– Ukraine, Sochi paralympic silver medalist
"I am very proud to represent Ukraine, my country. The medal I won today is devoted to the soldiers who are in Crimea and are defending Ukraine. At the moment. the military has the Russian guns pointed at them, but they are still defending Ukraine. So, I decided my victory today should be devoted to them. It is a great honor for me to represent my country at the Paralympic Games. There is a lot going through my mind, lots of emotions. But we feel the support we are getting for our country. We are thinking of Ukraine, it is not possible to be Ukrainian and not think about what is going on at home."
Sergey Krashoder, Russia - Paralympic Park visitor
"[Ukraine] is like our brother. I would like there to be peace. I wish they [the governments] would solve all their problems peacefully. There are a lot of Russian people in Crimea, they have their own ideas on what to do. The situation has overshadowed the Olympics and the Paralympics, and I just hope there is no war during the Games. After the Olympic Games I was very sad, because it was then that the problems started to begin. After the Paralympics are over, I hope everything will be okay."
John Clark, Scotland - Ski coach for British para-athlete Heather Mills
"This political situation between Russia, Ukraine and specifically in Crimea hasn't had much of an impact here at all. I think that the Paraylmpics are a big enough event in their own right, and that's really what most people in the world want to talk about. I feel a lot more comfortable walking down the street here than I do, say, walking around a number of streets in London - if I'm perfectly honest. Look at the atmosphere, everyone has a smile on their face, the Russian people are really happy to have us all here. You know, it's a big party of the nations and the Russians are so good at organizing things - they are not going to let any issues get in the way of this show going off well."
Ksenia Nosova, Rostov-on-Don, Russia - Paralympic park visitor
"I have many friends and relatives in Crimea - all of them want to be a part of Russia. Of course we don't want a war, but the situation is really bad. I don't think war will break out after the Paralympics is over and the media are no longer here. We really don't want war, we don't want to invade and take over a foreign country. We have so much land - it's more than enough. I have no fears being here in Sochi, but before, we were scared, we were worried something might happen. But now it seems to be OK here."
Julia and Ivanov, St. Petersburg, Russia - Paralympic park visitors
"Just as our sign says, 'Peace for everyone and medals for each sportsman'."
Markus Klusemann, Australia - Sports scientist and coach with the Australian Paralympic team
"Here in the village and the arenas, the security has been pretty tight and we've got someone who is constantly updating us on the security situation. But I feel very safe. It's hard to judge [the situation in Crimea] from here - we live in what we call "the Bubble," because we are all in our own little world at the moment. There is a bit of talk about it, but it is so hard to judge. Hopefully the sport and the competitors can shed a positive light on what is happening, and the bond between all nations - Ukraine and Russia and all the other nations as well."
Jupp Windhofer, Austria - Member of the Austrian team delegation
"We were pleasantly surprised coming here to Sochi. Everyone said to us before we came that it's dangerous, a bad decision, because of what is happening in Crimea. But I said, "You have to give them a chance," and I'm glad I did. I don't feel at all unsafe being here in Sochi. The mood here is extraordinary, I've never experienced anything like it. It's amazing."
John Lawler, US - US alpine skiing paralympian
"These games are awesome. I don't feel as though the situation in Crimea has overshadowed the Paralympics at all. The crowds are amazing, the people are coming, it's just great."
Bob Meserve, US - US Disabled Ski Team member
"The situation in Crimea has overshadowed the Paralympics to a certain extent. But this event is not about politics, it's about the sport and the athletes. It's a world event - it shouldn't be made into something political between two countries."
Friedhelm Beucher – Germany, President of the National Paralympic Committee Germany
"These are not Putin’s games, they are the Paralympic Games with the message of freedom."
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