Dancers and Parades and Pageantry. While Ukraine Is in Crisis, Russia Hosts the Paralympics.

Critics of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine have pointed out the irony of a country hosting the Olympics — the most welcoming international event in the world — only to invade a foreign state days later. But they have missed perhaps the greatest irony of all: Russia's Olympic-friendly veneer continues to stay on in Sochi even as the rest of the country plunges into Cold War-style rhetoric and tension.

On Friday the 2014 Winter Paralympics kicked off in Sochi, and if you were wondering, yes, Ukraine is participating in the event. Valeriy Sushkevich, the head of the Ukrainian Paralympics committee, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday night. Sushkevich said that while Putin did not give him "any guarantees" regarding peace in Crimea, the Ukrainian delegation will not stand for an escalation of the conflict. "I declare should this happen we will leave the Games. We can not possibly stay here in this case," he said.

Still, International Paralympic Committee president Sir Phillip Craven has been unwilling to question Russia's appropriateness as a host. "The talking point of Sochi 2014 needs to be great sport and great athletes, not global politics," Craven said after the Ukrainian delegation confirmed its participation. "Now that a decision has been taken I hope this will be the case and the athletes and the sport will take centre stage and the headlines they deserve."

At the Paralympics opening ceremony, there was nary a mention of the ongoing military intervention in Ukraine. Instead, it was dancers and parades and pageantry all over again.


Image Credit: AP

Hundreds of young dancers also took to the stage to showcase Russian ballet.


Image Credit: AP

Levitating performers filled Fisht Stadium.


Image Credit: AP

But perhaps the most powerful moment of the ceremony was the athletes' parade. While the Ukrainian delegation is participating in the Paralympics, it made a strong statement by refusing to walk in the parade. Biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko was the sole flag-bearer for the country.


Image Credit: AP

Despite the escalating tensions between the two countries, the U.S. Paralympics team was all smiles at the parade.


Image Credit: AP

President Vladimir Putin took a break from the headache of orchestrating a military takeover to make his trademark taciturn appearance.


Image Credit: AP

But perhaps in the most tone-deaf display of the evening, the Sochi organizers decided to conclude the ceremony with this display. Merely days after Russian vessels blockaded the Crimean bay and prevented Ukrainian ships from leaving their naval base, this fake icebreaker entered the stadium as the Paralympic flame was lit:


Image Credit: AP

And so it begins all over again.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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