SOCHI, Russia (AP) — His eyes welling with tears and voice choking with emotion, Ukrainian pole vault great Sergei Bubka appealed Wednesday to both sides in his homeland's political crisis to halt the violence that has claimed dozens of lives and brought the country "to the brink of catastrophe."
Bubka, who heads Ukraine's national Olympic committee, issued his call after clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters in Kiev on Tuesday left at least 25 dead and hundreds injured in the worst violence in its post-Soviet history.
Bubka said he was "shocked" by the bloodshed and offered to do "everything I can" to help bring calm and political dialogue.
"I pray and I appeal to both parties: stop violence, try to find the peace, keep us together to live in peace," he said.
The former Olympic pole vault champion, who still holds the outdoor world record in the event, is one of Ukraine's greatest sportsmen and famous personalities. He is in Sochi as an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee and Ukraine's top Olympic official, overseeing a team of 43 athletes.
"All of us, we have families at home," Bubka said. "This last night was very tough because we follow what happened. ... Everyone is really worried. Everyone is really under pressure. But they would like to continue to compete to send a message home to bring dialogue to all parties."
Bubka said none of his athletes had asked to return to Ukraine or were under political pressure to leave Sochi.
"Our athletes said they would like to compete in Olympic Games," he said. "They would like to bring glory to the nation and they would like to raise the flag of the nation."
Bubka said Ukrainian athletes wanted to wear black armbands to honor those killed, but the request was turned down by the IOC, citing the Olympic Charter. The IOC previously warned Norwegian athletes about wearing black arms bands in tribute to an athlete's brother who died before the games.
Bubka said he thought the political process had been moving in the right direction in Ukraine in recent weeks and never expected the situation to take such a dramatic turn.