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September 3, 2014

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Skier out of Olympics, citing violence in Ukraine

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Graham Dunbar / AP

Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday, Feb. 20, that Matsotska is leaving the Olympics in response to the violence in her country.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A Ukrainian skier has withdrawn from the Olympics to protest the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country.

"I don't want to participate when in my country people die," Bogdana Matsotska told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The 24-year-old skier is refusing to ski Friday in the slalom, which is her third and best event at the Sochi Olympics.

Matsotska wants to leave the Olympics immediately to join protesters in the camp known as Maidan in Kiev's Independence Square, but said she has been unable to book a flight home.

"I am in Maidan but just with my soul," she said.

The two-time Olympian explained her frustration with Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in an interview conducted in English and Russian.

"I think as a minimum he has to be jailed, and for a long time," Matsotska said. "For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion.

"I hope that I will be heard by the world and that probably somebody will step in and will help," she said.

Matsotska is remaining with Oleg Matsotskyy, her father and coach, in the Olympic athletes' village in the mountains above Sochi.

"We made this decision together. It is really hard for a sportsman and coach," she said. "The people are dying and my friends and family are there and I cannot race after all this in Ukraine going on."

Oleg Matsotskyy posted a message in Ukrainian on his Facebook page in which he assailed Yanukovych's latest actions.

"Instead of resolving the conflict through negotiations (which we had hoped he would when we left for Sochi), has drenched the last hopes of the nation in blood," the message read.

Matsotska was alerted to the fresh escalation of violence in Kiev by friends on Tuesday, hours after she raced to a 43rd-place finish in the giant slalom. She finished 27th in super-G last Saturday.

She said she could not sleep Tuesday night while worrying about friends and watching footage from Kiev online.

"As every person (in Maidan), I am afraid for my life but I hope I will never, ever be sorry about this decision," said Matsotska, who wore Ukraine Olympic team clothing in national colors of yellow and pale blue, and with her fingernails painted pale blue.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the Olympic body has been in touch with Ukraine's Olympic officials following a clash between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev that left more than two dozen dead and hundreds injured.

Ukraine is divided over whether the nation of 46 million will have closer ties to the West or to Russia. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal for closer ties with the European Union.

Matsotska said her national Olympic committee and the IOC respect her decision. Ukraine's NOC posted a statement on its website saying that it was "shocked" by the violence at home toward "loved ones" and is doing its "best to honor them on the fields of play here in Sochi."

"We believe in the wisdom and integrity of the Ukrainian people! We believe that together we can save our country and find a way forward!," the statement added. "As athletes we compete together with honor and friendship here in Sochi. We will do so peacefully to honor our home, our country, our Ukraine."

AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski, John Leicester, Stephen Wilson in Sochi, and Howard Fendrich in Krasnaya Polyana contributed to this report.

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