Following the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, escalation between Russia and the Ukraine continued to happen. Two days after the Games officially ended, Russia annexed Crimea and went on to functionally integrate them into the country. This left some Paralympians, Deaflympians, other elite athletes with disabilities and their coaches from the region in a bind, and having to make difficult choices about their future in the sport as 2014 ended and as Russia started dangling the carrot in 2015. The carrot offered by the Ukraine was often smaller, and the leadership appeared concerned about protecting their limited assets.
Sports where Russia dangled a carrot in 2015 included rowing, with Paralympians in the sport going to the region and training up a new generation of future Russian Paralympic rowers. These rowers were then offered the opportunity go to Yalta and train with the national team. Nationality changes were also in the work, to make sure any Ukrainian Paralympic athletes would have their nationality sorted and Russian in time for possible qualification runs for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.
Some sports were more hurt by the annexation than others. The Crimea provides important access to the Black Sea, and sports like sailing, rowing and canoe took advantage of this location. Ukraine never had a Paralympic sailing program worth mentioning, but near all efforts for the sport disappeared with the annexation. This was a sport that on the Paralympic level could not afford to lose even a single nation who supported them if they wanted a chance back on the 2024 Summer Paralympics program. ISDF and ISAF remained silence, and Russia just subsumed these facilities leaving Ukrainian sailors with the limited options including a nationality change, basing themselves outside the Ukraine or giving up the sport.
Swimming was one sport which saw Crimean athletes opt for Russian citizenship, rather than Ukrainian and to potentially represent the country at the Rio Paralympics and future Deaflympic Games. Swimmers Natalia Prolohayeva, Andrew Kalina, Eskender Mustafayev and coach Irina Mashchenko all made the switch from Crimea and Ukraine to Crimea and Russia. In the case of Mustafayev, the decision came because his family was originally from Uzbekistan and only moved to Ukrainian Crimea when he was 11-years-old. At the same time, other swimmers from the region were making the change in citizenship, and more importantly, his coached also changed nationalities. Lots of competitors did this. Mustafayev’s switch was not unexpected and left him unable to compete the 2014 IPC Swimming European Championships. Actions were underway 2014 that by October saw him stripped of all his Ukrainian sports scholarships via presidential decree. By 2015, the issue was resolved and he was representing Russia at 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships, a key Rio qualifying event, where he won a bronze in the 4 x 50m Freestyle Relay 20 Points.
Most of the issues around Crimean athletes appear resolved by end of this year, as Paralympic qualifying and important world championships pushed the need for athletes to choose a side and determine their sporting history. They either stayed in Crimea and represented Russia, or they left and continue to represent Ukraine. It is a different picture than the one offered by the National Paralympic Committee for Ukraine in Sochi, and a different narrative than the one spouted by stray Russian athletes who referenced the situation to the media in Sochi. It will also bring a whole new dynamic and intensity when Ukraine and Russian national teams meet, as they seem destined to do in 7-a-side football, on the field in Rio.