Athens, 6 July 2004 - The international Torch Relay made its thirty-first stop yesterday (5 July) in the capital city of Ukraine. Thousands of citizens, despite the summer rain, went out in the streets of Kiev, cheering on the Torchbearers of the ATHENS 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.
The Relay started off from Borispol Avenue at the gateway to the city. The first Torchbearer was Viacheslav Olinik, 1996 Olympic champion for Wrestling. The Kievan Torchbearers numbered 120 and covered a distance of 38 km. The Relay made a stop at the Palace of Ukrainian Culture, one of Kiev¡¯s largest venues, where concerts and cultural events are held. In a wonderful atmosphere of celebration, a city founded as an outpost of Byzantine Greek civilisation hailed its Torchbearers, among them famous sports stars of international calibre, artists, and prominent members of local society: Oleg Blokhin, Ukraine¡¯s greatest footballer, presently coach of the national team; Oleksandr Volkov, a Basketball celebrity who has made an international career in the NBA as well as the Greek Championsip; Irina Beletska, Olympic gold medallist in 1980; Katerina Serebryanskaya, the dominant figure in the 1996 Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics tournament; Viktor Burakov, Olympic medallist in 1980; and the Chief of the city¡¯s Fire Brigade, Oleksandr Tomashov, the man who put his own life at risk to help save victims of the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986. Another Torchbearer was Ruslana Lyzhychko, popular singer, winner of the Eurovision singing contest, who was applauded loudly.
The Relay passed some of the city¡¯s great historical monuments - the St Michael monastery and the Lavra Monastery, Kiev University, and the Ukraine Statue, finishing in Nezalezhnosti Maidan [Independence Square] in late afternoon. The Olympic altar was kindled by the most celebrated of all Ukraine¡¯s athletes, Sergei Bubka, in the presence of at least sixty thousand people. The lighting ceremony was followed by a programme of festive events that paid tribute to Greek culture and threw into high relief the time-honoured friendship of the two peoples.
The first president of Ukraine¡¯s NOC, Ivan Fedorenko, struck a note of confidence in his speech for the flame¡¯s passage through Kiev. ¡°Athens¡¯ Games will be unique, and it will be held in perfect venues. My hope is that this Olympics will prove to be a landmark for future Games, because Greece has a unique history¡±.
ATHENS 2004 roving representative Spyros Lambridis was impressed from the warm welcome of Kiev¡¯s residents to the Torch Relay. He alluded to the country¡¯s sporting achievements: ¡°Ukraine has a long tradition in sports and has made its own Olympic history by winning more than 350 medals since 1952, as a member of the Soviet Union and then as an independent state. The Olympic flame unites people, bridging the gaps between them and bringing them closer to one another. We would like to thank the Ukrainian people for the wonderful reception they have given the symbol of the 2004 Athens Games¡±.
Oleksandr Volkov said: ¡°Today one of my childhood dreams came true. Greece is the best country to host the Olympic Games and the Greeks are the most enthusiastic sport fans in the world¡±.
Katerina Serebryanskaya, pointing out how much people¡¯s response means for an athlete, said: ¡°In Athens, an athlete can feel at home. Cheerful people and their warm hearts are the greatest incentive to athletes to fulfil their goals¡±.
Oleg Blokhin commented: ¡°I was surprised to see how many people turned up today. We had a real festival in the streets of Kiev. The first thing I would wish the world is peace ¨C then everything else will fall into place¡±.
The Flame continues its journey, visiting Istanbul today, Sofia on Wednesday, and Cyprus on Thursday. The Isle of Aphrodite is the Relay¡¯s last stop before returning to its native heath where, starting from Heraklio in Crete, it will travel all over Greece.