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Andriy Grivko, the only Ukrainian rider in this year’s Tour de France, says his presence is essential to convey a message of peace back to his homeland.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Grivko, speaking after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the rebel-controlled east of Ukraine, insisted that fault for that “terrorist act” lies squarely with the Russian government, led by president Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine has been embroiled in a bitter civil war since Russian-backed separatists gained control of the Crimea in late February.
A snap referendum on March 11 saw Crimean citizens vote for independence from Ukraine, although Grivko claims those who wanted to remain part of Ukraine were prevented from voting.
The 30-year-old, a native of the Crimea, rides for the Kazakh Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali and he hopes his presence at the front of the peloton marshaling the Italian can have a positive effect back in his homeland.
“I feel a bit alone to tell the truth but it’s important that I’m here on the Tour to carry a message of peace,” he told Sunday’s edition of l’Equipe.
“Above and beyond my work for Vincenzo I see my presence on the Tour as a mission.”
But Grivko cannot help get down about the events back home.
His parents and sister still live in Simferopol, where he was born, in the Crimea, and he is sad to see how they are suffering since the events of last March.
“It’s hard to concentrate on cycling when you know your family is still over there,” he said. “I’ve tried to speak to them regularly since the start of the Tour. I found out my sister was fighting to refuse the Russian passport they’re trying to impose on all inhabitants.
“The Russian dictatorship is being implanted in my country while I’m pedaling the roads of France.”
Grivko was eight years old when the old Soviet Union broke up and Ukraine became a separate and independent country.
But he says that was only on paper.
“I remember that everyone thought that we would finally have freedom. But already back then they were lying to us.
“They made us think that we would no longe be associated with Moscow but not much has changed in the last 20 years.”