TALLARD, France (AFP) — 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.
Grivko, speaking after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down 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 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 Crimea, rides for Astana, alongside 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 but get down about the events back home.
His parents and sister still live in Simferopol, where he was born, in 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 longer be associated with Moscow, but not much has changed in the last 20 years.”
This year is Grivko’s seventh Tour de France. He is also a five-time national time trial champion, and won Ukraine’s national road race championships in 2012.