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Putin opens Winter Paralympics in Sochi as Ukraine sends only 1 athlete to the parade

03/07/2014 01:05 EST | Updated 05/07/2014 05:59 EDT
SOCHI, Russia - 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."

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