Ukraine war refugee wins Jerusalem marathon

Ukrainian athlete Valentyna Veretska, who fled Russia’s invasion of her country and took refuge in Israel, on Friday won the Jerusalem marathon, race organisers said.

Veretska claimed the women’s title with a time of 2hr 45min 54sec, clutching the Ukrainian and Israeli flags as she crossed the finish line.

The 31-year-old was one of around 40 Ukrainians who took part in the race in Jerusalem’s Old City, braving unseasonably cold and wet weather.

It was her second win since October when she came first in the Tirana, Albania, marathon.

Veretska fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with her daughter, crossing into neighbouring Poland before travelling to Israel.

Her husband, however, stayed in their homeland where he is serving in the army, the organisers said.

Veretska said she took part in the Jerusalem race to raise awareness about the situation in her homeland.

“I came to this marathon to make my voice heard, and call on everyone to unite to bring an end to the war,” she said in remarks relayed by the Jerusalem municipality, which organised the event.

“I’m here physically but can’t stop worrying,” she said.

“I want everyone to understand this is real; there’s a real war in Ukraine,” she said.

“I ran and thought about my homeland and the people there,” she said. “As I ran, I heard them in my mind.”

Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Chili Tropper on Thursday said the Jewish state would welcome 100 Ukrainian athletes fleeing the conflict.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, more than 16,800 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel, according to the interior ministry.

More than one million of Israel’s 9.4 million residents have roots in the former Soviet Union.

Israel has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine but has so far rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for military assistance.

It has also refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia, with which it maintains strong ties including security cooperation.

In an address to Israeli lawmakers on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to the Jewish state to abandon its neutrality and “make its choice”.

Zelensky, who is Jewish, compared Russia’s war on Ukraine to the Holocaust.

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