The Olympics has been rocked by news a 17-year-old has been forced to flee her country after a “nightmare” development.
The Winter Olympics has been rocked by confirmation 17-year-old rising cross-country skiing star Darya Dolidovich has fled her country, Belarus.
The ultra-fit long distance skier has told Reuters her saga has been something she couldn’t have dreamt up in her worst nightmare.
Her father — retired Olympian Sergei Dolidovich — has also been forced to escape the country and has travelled with his daughter to Warsaw, Poland.
He has repeatedly spoken out against the heavy-handed rule of state leader Alexander Lukashenko and has previously participated in street protests against the regime.
Ex-Soviet Belarus is in the throes of an ongoing crackdown following protests against strongman Lukashenko, who claimed a disputed victory in a 2020 election.
Dozens of professional athletes and coaches have been dismissed from national teams and several have been jailed as past of a crackdown on dissent towards the established government.
In January, Darya Dolidovich was barred from competing internationally after Belarusian officials de-activated her International Ski Federation (FIS) code. It robbed her of a chance to compete at the Beijing Games, despite having qualified.
The same thing happened to another Belarusian skier and Olympic hopeful Sviatlana Andryiuk.
Sergei Dolidovich — who openly shares his pro-opposition stance — believes his daughter was punished for his opposition views.
He first revealed the family’s plight in a post on Facebook.
“We left but we will be back,” Sergei Dolidovich’s post said.
He had previously said: “I don’t see the possibility of her continuing her career in Belarus.”
Darya has also confirmed that her family has relocated to Poland during a video interview with Reuters.
“I couldn’t have imagined, even in a nightmare, that I would end up leaving my country three-four months ago. It feels like tomorrow I’ll take the plane or car back,” the teenager said.
“I had planned to finish school in Belarus, but my parents said that we were moving. I think it’s for the best for my father as well. I’m upset, of course.”
The Belarusian Olympic team was marred by scandal last year after athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya claimed her country was forcing her to leave the Tokyo Olympics after she criticised Belarus’s athletics federation on social media.
Tsimanouskaya sought protection with Olympics officials and then took refuge in EU member Poland, saying she feared for her life if forced to return home.
It comes after the US State Department last week said it has placed visa bans on “multiple” Belarusians for attacks on dissidents, including Tsimanouskaya.
The department did not identify the individuals blacklisted or give a precise number, but said they had been involved in “serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activity” on behalf of the regime of strongman Alexander Lukashenko.