Sports stars from Ukraine, Russia react to invasion; organizations take action

Sports figures with ties to Ukraine and Russia have been urging peace in the wake of the conflict in eastern Europe.

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Russia’s highest-profile athlete, NHL star Alex Ovechkin, a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, pleaded for peace on Friday.

“Please, no more war. It doesn’t matter who is in the war -- Russia, Ukraine, different countries -- we have to live in peace,” Ovechkin, who stars for the Washington Capitals, said after the team’s practice on Friday.

Ovechkin, 36, campaigned for Putin in 2017 by starting a social movement called Putin Team, ESPN reported.

“I never made a secret of my attitude toward our president, always openly supporting him,” wrote Ovechkin, whose Instagram profile photo features him posing with Putin.

Asked if he supported the war, Ovechkin said “I don’t control this one,” according to ESPN.

“I’m Russian, right? It’s not something I can control. It’s not in my hands,” Ovechkin told reporters. “I hope it’s going to end soon and there’s going to be peace in both countries.”

The only two NBA players from Ukraine released a joint statement on Thursday reacting to the events in eastern Europe, KCRA-TV reported.

Sacramento Kings center Alex Len and Toronto Raptors forward-guard Svi Mykhailiuk condemned the attack, saying, “A great tragedy befell our dear homeland Ukraine.”

Pavlo Dziuba, a Ukrainian college basketball player who plays forward for the University of Maryland, wrote “No War Peace” and “Pray for Ukraine” on his shoes in the Terps’ game against Indiana University on Thursday night.

On Saturday, Poland’s soccer team announced its refusal to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia on March 24 in Moscow, The Associated Press reported. Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza, who made the announcement on Twitter, said the move was made in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“No more words, time to act!” Kulesza wrote, adding that the federation’s decision was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”

The Swedish Football Association also decided not to play Russia.

“The men’s national team will not play against Russia -- regardless of where the match is played,” the organization said in a statement. “The Federal Board also urges FIFA to cancel the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates.”

The UEFA Champions League final, scheduled for late May, was relocated from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Saint-Denis, France, on Friday, according to the AP.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, the owner of the Premier League’s Chelsea Football Club, said he was “giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC,” The New York Times reported.

Formula One, the racing organization, canceled its Russian Grand Prix auto race on Friday, ABC News reported. The organization said it made the decision while “watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.”

Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev spoke Thursday at the Mexico Open about the attack.

“Watching the news from home, waking up here in Mexico, was not easy,” Medvedev, who will become the No. 1 men’s player when rankings are announced next week, told reporters on Thursday. “By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world.

“We play in so many different countries. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. I’m all for peace.”

Andrey Rublev of Russia, the world’s No. 7-ranked men’s tennis player, wrote “no war please” on a nearby camera lens after he advanced to the Dubai Open final on Friday, CBS Sports reported.

Rublev won a doubles title with Ukrainian Denys Molchanov last weekend, according to Time magazine.

“In these moments you realize that my match is not important,” Rublev told reporters on Thursday. “It’s not about my match, how it affects me. What’s happening is much more terrible.”

“You realize how important it is to have peace in the world and to respect each other no matter what, to be united. It’s about that we should take care of our Earth and of each other. This is the most important thing.”