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Zakharova Cup Postponed Amid Ukrainian Crisis
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Amid an escalating political crisis in Ukraine, the 13th Stella Zakharova Cup has been postponed, and former Ukrainian gymnastics champions are speaking out against the violence. Pictured: Olympic gold medalist Stella Zakharova with the competition's mascot in 2012

Amid an escalating political crisis in Ukraine, the 13th Stella Zakharova Cup has been postponed, and former Ukrainian gymnastics champions are speaking out against the violence as the nation teeters on a brink of a civil war.

Originally scheduled for March 29-30 in the capital Kyiv, the Zakharova Cup tentatively has been pushed back to April 26-27 because of the precarious situation, an event spokesman for the event told IG.

"During these hard days, the organizing committee of the Stella Zakharova Cup have been worrying a lot about Kiev, the tournament, our international guests," the spokesman said. "And we made a decision to change the dates of the competition."

Poster for the 2013 Stella Zakharova Cup

An international sports acrobatic competition in Ukraine, originally scheduled for Feb. 25 in Vinnytsia, was canceled because of the situation.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation told IG its gymnasts are safe at the Ukrainian gymnastics national training center, situated outside Kyiv in the suburb Koncha-Zaspa.

"The artistic gymnastics national teams for men and women are training at Koncha-Zaspa," said Oksana Kulida, Secretary-General of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation. "It's a really very difficult time right now in Ukraine. I think that all Ukrainians are thankful for those who are together with them."

The Zakharova Cup is an event sanctioned by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), which approved the postponement on its international calendar.

"We understand all the difficulties of such changes," the tournament spokesman said, "but we as the host country have no right to allow even the minimal risk. The postponement of the tournament for a month gives us confidence that the organization will match the high international level, like it was before. Our aim is to provide our guests and gymnasts as much pleasure during the visit to Kyiv as possible."

The annual competition typically attracts gymnasts from around the world. In 2013, Russia's Aliya Mustafina and Ukraine's Oleg Vernyayev were victorious.

Stella Zakharova, a 1980 Olympic gold medalist with the Soviet team, has been outspoken on social media about the crisis, which has continued to escalate in the past month and in recent days. She has written repeatedly about the need to unite as one nation.

"Stella has her own active position and as a famous Ukrainian sportsman tries to support our nation, to stop the violence," her tournament spokesman said.

Zakharova is not the only gymnastics legend to speak out. On Sunday, Lilia Podkopayeva — European, world and Olympic all-around champion and International Gymnastics Hall of Fame inductee — spoke out on Facebook in a post that quickly went viral, generating thousands of likes and shares.

"I'm Lilia Podkopayeva," she wrote, accompanying a photo of an upside-down Ukrainian flag made of blue and yellow flowers. "Mother of two wonderful kids. Wherever we've lived, in Lviv, or in my native Donetsk, we — the women, wives, mothers — want one thing: a happy life and peaceful skies for our children. We do not want to send our husbands to war. We shudder every time a grenade explodes. We want to bring up our children in a peaceful and united Ukraine, bring up future artists, actors, honest politicians, and of course, Olympic champions. So that they, as I did, should be standing on the Olympic podium weeping with pride listening to the Ukrainian national anthem! Glory to Ukraine!"

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