Paralympic organisers initially announced that Russians and Belarusians would be allowed to compete in Beijing, but reversed course one day before the opening.

About 564 athletes, of which 138 are women, are competing in the Paralympics in Beijing.
About 564 athletes, of which 138 are women, are competing in the Paralympics in Beijing. (Reuters)

The Winter Paralympics has opened in Beijing with the Russian athletes sent home and the Ukrainian team escaping a war zone to get to China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, wearing a red face mask to protect against the coronavirus, attended the opening on Friday.

A Ukrainian team member in a wheelchair carried the country's now widely known blue and yellow flag at the head of a 20-person delegation entering the Bird’s Nest.

“It’s a miracle that we have made it to the Paralympics,” Ukrainian delegation head Valerii Sushkevych said earlier.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, shortly after the Winter Olympics wrapped up in Beijing, is roiling the world. And the world of sports is no exception.

Paralympic organisers initially announced that Russians and Belarusians would be allowed to compete in Beijing, but reversed course one day before the opening. 

They cited tensions in the Athletes Village as the reason behind expelling athletes from both countries.

READ MORE: Badminton, rowing, skiing federations ban Russian, Belarusian athletes

A participant says it took four days for team members in Ukraine to reach Beijing as the war raged.
A participant says it took four days for team members in Ukraine to reach Beijing as the war raged. (AFP)

'Barriers on the way'

“We overcame a lot of barriers on the way,” Sushkevych said. “Many members of our team had to escape while there was bombardment and shells exploding.”

Sushkevych said it took four days for team members in Ukraine to reach Beijing. 

He said he slept on the floor of a bus because of a back condition during the last two days of the journey through Europe.

The Paralympics includes six sports: Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, hockey, snowboarding and curling. The 10-day Paralympics closes on March 13.

About 564 athletes, of which 138 are women, are competing in the Paralympics. China has the largest team, with 96 competitors, followed by the United States with 65.

"Much work still needs to be done to achieve gender parity,” according to International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons.

"But having increased female participation significantly at the Winter Games in the last 20 years shows we are heading in the right direction," Parsons said.

READ MORE: FIFA kicks Russia out of 2022 World Cup

Source: AP