Ukraine bans its athletes from competing in Russia

FILE - This is a Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 file photo of Lokomotiv's Ukrainian player Taras Mykhalyk, left, fights for the ball with Zenit's Miha Mevlja during a Russia's Premier League soccer match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow in St. Petersburg, Russia, The Ukrainian government Wednesday March 14, 2018 has ordered its athletes not to take part in any competitions held in neighboring Russia, which the country accuses of occupying its territory. The Ukrainian Youth and Sports Ministry issued a decree Wednesday to “prohibit ... the participation of members of the Ukrainian national sports teams in any sports competitions held on the territory of the Russian Federation.” (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky/ File)

The Ukrainian government has ordered its athletes not to take part in any competitions held in neighboring Russia, which it accuses of occupying its territory

KIEV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian government has ordered its athletes not to take part in any competitions held in neighboring Russia, which the country accuses of occupying its territory.

The Ukrainian Youth and Sports Ministry issued a decree Wednesday to "prohibit ... the participation of members of the Ukrainian national sports teams in any sports competitions held on the territory of the Russian Federation."

Minister Ihor Zhdanov said he took the step because "aggressors and offenders must be expelled from the global sports arena," and because of Russia's record of widespread doping in sports.

Zhdanov said Ukrainian athletes faced "dangerous" conditions in Russia.

The ministry didn't immediately reply to a request for comment on possible punishments for Ukrainian athletes or teams who break the ban. Many Ukrainian athletes, especially in Olympic sports, rely indirectly on the government for much of their funding.

The first competition to be affected is next week's final round of the biathlon World Cup in the Russian city of Tyumen. The Ukrainian team won't take part, and the United States and Czech biathlon teams have also pulled out, saying Russia's record of doping makes it an unsuitable host.

Ukraine didn't qualify for this year's soccer World Cup in Russia, though some Ukrainian players play for Russian clubs. They include the former Ukraine national team player Taras Mykhalyk, who plays for Russian league leader Lokomotiv Moscow.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian teams have continued to compete in Russia at events in sports such as boxing and biathlon, largely without incident.

Ukrainian athletes staged several protests at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, which occurred around the time of the Crimea annexation. Ukraine symbolically sent only one athlete to the opening ceremony, after earlier considering a boycott, and some Ukrainian medalists at the Paralympics covered their medals with their hands on the podium as a silent protest.

Some Crimean athletes have continued to compete for Ukraine, but said they face harassment from Russian authorities if they try to visit their hometowns, while others have switched allegiance to Russia.

Besides the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine's government accuses Russia of being the driving force behind the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the charge.

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