Ukrainian athletes have been instructed by their government to shun their Russian competitors at the upcoming Winter Olympics, The Moscow Times reports.
Per the Times, Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit said the 45 athletes Ukraine is sending to the games "should not stand" near Russian athletes when they "are standing with a flag."
Maria Zakharova of the Russian Foreign Ministry described the policy as "a manifestation of an act of totalitarianism," according to Russia's RBC Sport.
During the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — which were held in 2021 — 19-year-old Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh drew criticism when she embraced a Russian athlete after they won bronze and gold medals, respectively.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar described the embrace as "careless behavior" that could "become a subject of the enemy's information special operations," the Kyiv Post reported at the time.
More than 14,000 people have been killed since 2014 in fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Mahuchikh, at the time a junior sergeant in Ukraine's military, said that after winning her medal she wanted to "hug the whole world," according to RBC Sport.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are high. More than 100,000 Russian troops are massed on Ukraine's border. Recent intelligence reports suggest Russia is planning a "false flag" operation to justify an invasion and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already selected a Ukrainian politician to lead the puppet regime he plans to install.
How the Olympics might affect the timing of a potential Russian invasion is an open question.
Politico notes that "Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, a week before the Beijing Summer Olympics kicked off. But in 2014, he waited until three days after the Russia-hosted 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to invade Ukraine and seize Crimea."
Putin plans to be present in Beijing on Feb. 4 for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.