Kyiv Streets Empty, Citizens Worry Over Invasion

  • Ukrainian athlete Vladyslav Hareskevych held a “no war” sign after competing at the 2022 Olympics.
  • Hareskevych, a skeleton athlete, spoke to Insider after returning home to Kyiv this week.
  • He said he was hopeful that a Russian invasion could be avoided, but said the atmosphere is tense.

A Ukrainian athlete who staged a silent anti-war protest at the Winter Olympics is now back home in his country’s capital city of Kyiv, where he says the streets are empty and people are worried about a possible Russian invasion.

Vladyslav Heraskevych made headlines on February 11, when he held up a sign reading “No war in Ukraine” after finishing a run in the men’s skeleton event at the Beijing Games.

Insider interviewed Heraskevych on Wednesday, a day after he returned to Kyiv after competing in Beijing, where he placed 18th in the skeleton.

“The streets are more empty, people are really nervous,” he told Insider. “It’s a little bit changed.”

For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been ramping up troops along the Ukrainian border while claiming to have no plans to invade, but Western leaders in recent weeks have warned that Moscow could launch an attack at any time.

russian tanks

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Putin has blamed the contentious situation on NATO, complaining about the alliance’s eastward expansion.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, but has sought to join for years. Russia sees the prospect of Ukrainian NATO membership as an existential threat.

Along these lines, Moscow has made demands for binding security guarantees from the West — including permanently barring Ukraine from NATO. But the alliance and the US have refused to bend on this demand, maintaining that NATO’s open door policy will not change.

Putin announced on Tuesday that he was pulling back some troops on the border, but Heraskevych said the mood in Ukraine has definitely changed since he left to compete at the Olympics.

Vladyslav Heraskevych

Heraskevych competes in the skeleton event at the Beijing Olympics on February 8.

EDGAR SU/Reuters

The 23-year-old physics student said he spent most of the winter out of the country, training and competing, but he came back to Ukraine right before the Olympics to isolate before the Games.

But upon returning to Ukraine after the Games, he told Insider that the streets were emptier than the last time he was home.

Competing in the Olympics was especially stressful for Heraskevych because he had to leave his mother behind in Ukraine on his own. Heraskevych’s father is his coach, so he came with him to Beijing.

Heraskevych said he tried to “stay professional” and focus on his runs during the Games, but admitted that it was “really hard” to tune out the news.

Since returning to Ukraine, he said most people seem unsure about what to expect in the coming days. But Heraskevych is still hopeful a war might be avoided.

Vladyslav Herakevych

Heraskevych at the Olympics on February 11.

Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

When asked whether he was worried about how Putin might interpret his anti-war protest, Heraskevych told Insider it wasn’t meant to be a criticism of any one country’s actions, but a call for peace.

“I only want peace in my country,” he said.

“I hope this call for peace will help our situation and … show that we are normal people who want to live their best lives, to set some goals and to achieve them,” he added. “We are not people who want war, we are a kind people, a kind nation, who want to live a good life.”

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