Toms Skujinš was en route to Belgium for his first-ever appearance at Opening Weekend, but his excitement at racing on the cobbles was clouded by news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He spent the journey reading and watching the news, and the business of racing bicycles for a living suddenly felt small and unimportant.
"It's not easy," Skujinš told Cyclingnews at Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday. "I definitely felt quite conflicted two weeks ago when I was off to my first Opening Weekend, which I was very excited about. But on the train, I was watching the news and I really didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to feel. There’s definitely some good days and bad days."
In recent weeks, the Latvian champion Skujinš has been vocal in his condemnation of the invasion on social media, posting messages of solidarity both with Ukraine and with protestors in Russia. Latvia’s proximity to Russia and its shared history with Ukraine means that the war is an immediate concern for Skujins.
Meanwhille, his Trek-Segafredo directeur sportif Yaroslav Popovych has recently returned to his native Ukraine to help fellow citizens evacuate from the country.
"We border both Russia and Belarus, and Ukraine is not that far, and obviously in years past we’ve also been part of the Soviet Union. And one of our directors is Ukrainian. That’s why it hits maybe closer to home for me than for others," said Skujinš.
"My sisters aren’t in Latvia anymore, but my parents are still there, my friends are still there, my grandparents are still there."
Above all, Skujinš is concerned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the beginning of an attempt to strip away the democratic freedoms garnered by former Soviet Bloc nations over the past thirty years.
"A lot of the former Soviet countries have come a long way, so it’s really a pity to see the people getting oppressed again. That’s why I have to be vocal about it - I think everyone does. If we don’t do anything about it, it might lead to something bigger," said Skujins.
"For sure, if there’s a way I can help people to understand what’s going on, understand that it’s wrong and maybe sway some decisions that will help end this war, then I will do everything I can."
Skujins' Trek-Segafredo teammate Quinn Simmons has started a GoFundMe page (opens in new tab) seeking donations to help Yaroslav Popovych aid those who have been forced to leave their homes during the invasion.
Funds raised will be used to purchase medical products, hygiene products, food, batteries, bedding and clothing.
"I think a lot of people are doing their part. It’s not just the team; it’s everyday people," Skujinš said.
"I have friends in Poland who are driving back and forth, driving almost 20 hours a day, helping people by trying to get them from the border to somewhere where they have relatives. It’s not just us; it’s everyday people that are actually doing most of the heavy lifting."
Missing our director Popovych this week as he’s back home helping his country 🇺🇦 Please consider donating so we can support him and his people in anyway possible 👊❤️ : https://t.co/JB9Xsg5hRt #GoFundMeMarch 7, 2022
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.