Putin declares Sochi Winter Paralympics open

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics at the Fisht Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics at the Fisht Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

An athlete representing Ukraine enters the arena during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics at the Fisht Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

An athlete representing Ukraine enters the arena during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics at the Fisht Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened the Winter Paralympics in Sochi against the backdrop of his country’s military action in Crimea.

During the athletes’ parade, the 23-strong Ukrainian team was represented by a lone flagbearer in an apparent protest at the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The appearance of the flagbearer, biathlete Mykhaylo Tkachenko, drew a roar from the crowd.

The Ukrainian team only announced earlier in the day that it would not boycott the games, but said it could pull out if the Crimea situation escalates.

A lavish ceremony based on the mythical firebird of Russian folklore marked the start of the 11th Winter Paralympics, a 10-day event featuring 547 athletes from 45 countries.

Putin stood at a microphone in front of a capacity crowd at the Fisht Olympic Stadium and announced: “I declare open the Winter Paralympic Games 2014, Sochi.”

Associated Press

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