Funeral of Ukrainian decathlete and serviceman Volodymyr Androshchuk in Letychiv
SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB. Sportsmen and friends of Ukrainian decathlete and serviceman Volodymyr Androshchuk, who was recently killed in a fight against Russian troops near the Bakhmut town, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, react next to a coffin with his body during a funeral ceremony in the town of Letychiv, Khmelnytskyi region, Ukraine February 1, 2023. Reuters

Family and friends of Ukrainian decathlete Volodymyr Androshchuk bid farewell on Wednesday to the promising sportsman turned soldier killed in combat with Russia, weeping as they lined up at his open coffin.

At his funeral in the western Ukrainian town of Letychiv, friends of the 22-year-old, who volunteered for the military and was hit by shrapnel in Bakhmut last week, were vehement that Russians should be excluded from the Olympics. They were bitter that Androshchuk lost the chance to compete on the world's most prestigious sports stage.

Fellow decathlete Dmytro Korbenko, who described himself as Androshchuk's best friend, said of Russian athletes: "It's obvious they're not supposed to be in sports, nor at the 2024 Olympic Games."

As mourners laid bouquets near Androshchuk's feet or kissed his forehead, Korbenko described his friend as a strong-willed athlete. "He was supposed to live a long and happy life," Korbenko said, his voice cracking. "He had everything to be successful in training and in competitions."

Ukrainian officials are furious at the International Olympic Committee for opening to the door to athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus returning to international competition as neutrals for the 2024 Paris Games.

In response, Ukraine has threatened to boycott the 2024 Olympics if the year-long war is still raging and if Russians are allowed to compete. Latvia said it would do the same.

"I don't know how one can let athletes from Russia and Belarus compete," said Artur Felfner, an elite javelin thrower representing Ukraine, tears trickling down his face as he stared at a framed picture of Androshchuk in his military uniform. "There's no place for them there."

As a national-level athlete, Androshchuk did not have to fight. He went to the front as a volunteer, swapping his tracksuit for fatigues. He died last week near the eastern town of Bakhmut, which has witnessed fierce fighting as Russian troops have intensified efforts to surround it.

Maria, a 21-year-old classmate of Androshchuk, said she could have imagined him winning medals for Ukraine.

"Unfortunately none of this is going to happen," she said Maria, not providing her last name. "How can a terrorist state that takes millions of lives -- the lives of athletes, of children -- be invited anywhere? They need to be fully isolated."

Russia, which denies committing atrocities in Ukraine, said attempts at banning it from international sports were "doomed to fail."

Androshchuk's coffin, hoisted by Ukrainian servicemen, was carried through snow-covered streets to a cemetery to the sound of a military brass ensemble. Friends and family took turns tossing fistfuls of dirt and snow into his grave.