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Sebastian Coe visits Ukrainian Championships and athletes, meets with President Zelenskyy

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe travelled to Ukraine on Friday 28 June – Ukraine’s Constitution Day – to witness first-hand how the country’s athletes are coping as they prepare to compete in their first Olympic Games since the war.

More than 500 sports facilities in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed during the ongoing Russian aggression, several of which Coe visited during his time in the country. The impact on Ukraine’s infrastructure has made it extremely difficult for athletes at all levels in the sport to train and compete.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe in Ukraine

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe visited the site of a missile attack in Kyiv that destroyed the gym, the congress hall and the exhibition center of the Art Academy

In 2022, World Athletics – together with the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) and members of the Diamond League Association – set up the Ukraine Fund to provide support to professional athletes affected by the conflict in their home country, ensuring they can continue to train, qualify for and participate in World Athletics Series events and the World Athletics Championships.

The fund was renewed in 2023, and was pivotal in helping Ukraine field a team of 29 athletes for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. As well as paying for travel and accommodation for elite athletes at training camps, support also included purchasing equipment to replace items that have been destroyed during missile attacks.

Coe attended the Ukrainian Championships in Lviv on Saturday 29 June and spent several hours meeting with the competitors, many of whom have benefitted from the World Athletics Ukraine Fund over the past 24 months. Like many national championships around the world, the competition doubled as the country’s Olympic trials, forming a key stepping stone for Ukrainian athletes as they prepare for the Olympic Games in Paris.

“Having met with the Ukrainian team at our World Championships in Oregon in 2022, last year in Budapest, and most recently at the European Athletics Championships in Rome, I consistently told them, ‘If you can come to our championships, I can come to yours’. So, it was important for me to be here this weekend at their national championships ahead of the Paris Olympics,” said Coe.

“I have been deeply moved by the resilience and determination of the athletes. As we arrived at the stadium, an air raid siren was sounding and delayed the 200m start. This is the stark and sobering reality and challenges the athletes face day-in, day-out.”

Ahead of the championships, Coe also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday, who thanked World Athletics for the assistance provided to Ukrainian athletes and their families over the past two years.

“Thank you for your strong steps and decisions,” said Zelenskyy, who also commended the decisions made by World Athletics in March 2022 to prevent Russia and Belarus from participating in international athletics competitions. “Russia needs to feel that its terrorist war will cause its athletes to be treated accordingly. And that the price for this war is very high.”

Coe assured Zelenskyy that World Athletics will continue to support Ukraine, not only through the fund, but also in the lobbying of international organisations and national governments in the reconstruction of sports facilities in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy was also informed of World Athletics’ plans for a new holistic initiative based on World Athletics’ Kids’ Athletics programme, focused on children in Ukraine who have been deprived of parental care due to the war. The plan would include sports camps, using athletics to promote mental wellbeing, life skills sessions, and community-building activities to help children cope with trauma and loss.

Sebastian Coe with young athletes in Ukraine

Sebastian Coe with young athletes in Ukraine

During his visit, Coe paid homage to fallen athletes at the Marsove Pole war memorial. He also met with Ukrainian Athletics Federation Acting President Olha Saladukha, World Athletics Council Member Nataliia Dobrynska, Ukrainian Olympic Committee President Vadym Hutsait, Acting Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine Matviy Bidnyi, and Vice-Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine Viktoriia Ryasna.

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