Ukrainian athletes have been told to avoid standing near their Russian rivals at the Beijing Games
Ukrainian athletes should avoid standing beside their Russian competitors at the Beijing Winter Olympics, the country's sports minister has said, warning about potential "provocations."
Reports in Russia last week stated that Ukrainian athletes had been told to avoid speaking Russian in interviews at the Games or being photographed alongside their Russian rivals.
Ukraine's minister of youth and sports, Vadim Gutzeit, now appears to have confirmed those recommendations in comments shared by public broadcaster Suspilne.
"We had an online meeting with all athletes and coaches on how to behave in situations where there will be provocations, as it was at the Summer Olympics," Gutzeit said amid heightened tensions between the two neighbors.
"All athletes are aware, they know how to behave in such situations. They should not stand together when athletes from Russia stand with a flag, so they aren't together.
"They should know that, we worked on it. After the Summer Olympics, it's not the first time we've met with athletes and it's been discussed," added the 50-year-old former fencing gold medalist.
During the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh came under fire in her homeland when the youngster was photographed smiling alongside Russian gold medal winner Mariya Lasitskene.
Bronze medalist Mahuchikh, 20, is a junior sergeant in the Ukrainian armed forces and was ordered to attend a meeting with officials to discuss her actions.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar claimed that Mahuchikh's behavior could become "the object of the enemy's information special operations."
That led to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asserting that "the enemy are the ones in Ukraine who started persecuting their own athlete for this photo."
At the Paralympics later in the year, Ukraine's Ihor Tsvietov was twice seen shunning photos with Russian competitors after appearing on the podium with them.
The Beijing Winter Games formally get underway in the Chinese capital on February 4 and run until February 20.
The Russian team will formally be competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) due to ongoing WADA sanctions, meaning the Russian flag and anthem will be banned.