By Mick Palmer
“Don’t look up, look down.” That is the sign-off from F1-Ukraine that I received this morning. It is not downbeat. Right now in Ukraine however that is real and sage advice. I only came across the website run by Roman Galimon (which also has posts relating to UTCC) while trying to get in touch with Igor Skuz, the 2018 Ukrainian Touring Car Champion and European Touring Car Championship race winner to see how he and his family are doing. That in itself is a worrying, and very upsetting situation.
Life is more important than racing. But communities stick together. I have friends in Heavy Metal bands who are in touch with their brethren in the Ukraine, I’ve seen football fans from over here supporting football fans over there. I like that music and am a fan of that sport, but my life is motor racing, and being a racing journalist means being in touch with people from around the world. I want to lend that moral support.
Being in the UK there is not much that I, or many of us can do beyond pressuring organisations and making donations. About the only thing I can try to do is to amplify the message from within the country, and with the disgraceful weak FIA statement yesterday I’m not at all happy.
“My family and I are in Kyiv, we are constantly fired with missiles at residential buildings. I, along with other guys, hold the defense. Who has what! I regret that there are no weapons to defend. It’s just awful.” That’s the voice of Igor Skuz, he admits his English is not so good, we have a little difficulty getting over the translation, but it is pretty open enough to understand what he is saying.
He sent me a photo of himself today, armed and ready to defend his home with other volunteers. He also sent a video of his wife nursing their child to sleep. I have to admit that at that point I did cry, it hit so hard.
It is heartbreaking that these innocent people are suffering because of the decisions of one man – Vladimir Putin. It’s not something that the president of the FIA, Mohammed bin Sulayem, will have to go through tonight though.
Yesterday former Formula One driver Daniil Kvyat was upset at the possibility of not being able to compete in international motor racing for the foreseeable future. It’s a nonsense. His fellow racers in the Ukraine don’t have a choice. As it stands he’ll be able to fly around the world in luxury and race at some of the best circuits on the planet. While he’s doing that his Ukrainian colleagues will be far more busy with things other than racing, like defending their families, friends and homes, from the aggression of the country of his birth.
“FIA knows where these Russian racer take money. And even if they will race with white flag – it means that their propaganda wins.” That’s the view from Galimon.
On May 22 this year the Ukrainian Touring Car Championship was due to begin after a one year hiatus. Igor Skuz took the title in 2018 in his Ford Fiesta ST. The four round championship takes place exclusively at the Autodrom Chaika in Kyiv, the only racetrack in the country. Okay, it isn’t the BTCC or DTM, but it is the highest level of circuit racing in the country. There is a full grid where Igor and his brother race against a host of Ukrainian drivers. Cars in different classes range from fully modified Honda S2000s to the ZAZ 1102. It is just as important to them as our championships are to us, and the passion is no different. Igor has stepped up over the years too, racing in TCR International and more notably winning rounds on his way to third in the 2014 ETCC.
It may seem trite to some but yesterday Leonid Protasov, one of the organisers of the Ukrainian championship, posted a video of raceshops and cars destroyed in the Russian shelling of the city. These things can be rebuilt or renewed, but should it be fair that when these people have worked bloody hard to build something that it is taken away, and that those who race under the flag of the aggressor should be allowed to continue as a neutral?
Russian drivers were already banned from racing under the flag of their country in top level competitions like Formula One and the WEC after the state sponsored doping in the Olympics, it didn’t apply to lesser series, but now that has changed, and all Russian (and Belarusian) racers are banned from racing under their flag. What an absolute shit-show of a cop-out. Seriously, it is an embarrassing farce. It needs to change. Now.
Today Motorsport UK announced that they are going further by banning all Russian and Belarusian license holders from competing in the UK, along with teams and officials. And they’ve banned all associated flags and symbols. It is a fantastic start. It should be followed by other national bodies to make up for the FIA and its spineless decision, but there is a theoretical loophole.
You can be Russian and race under the license of another ASN. What that means is that in competition you represent the country of your license. To change that right now a driver would need the agreement of Russian racing authorities, and a second country who would accept the change – it’s highly unlikely that any countries would agree to that. It is even hard to consider China and the UAE allowing that, even though both have been weak in their lack of condemnation of Putin and his invasion. It also means that a Russian living in the UK for example could possibly apply for a British license if they are just starting to race. It might be a moral impossibility, but these loopholes need closing.
It’s plainly obvious that there will be no racing in Kyiv this year. One one hand that does not matter. Saving lives is the most important thing. Right now there is not much we can do, but donating to the Red Cross is one thing that we can, and another is to pressure the FIA into making a change to their stance. I am almost always embarrassed of the governing body of our sport as it allows money to trump human rights repeatedly. Yesterday they had a chance to draw a line in the sand, instead they swept that line to one side.
If Igor can take the time to say “Thank You” after pointing out the absolute fear and peril that they are living in just for me checking in on him, I’m sure we can all spare a moment to respectfully register our displeasure by emailing the FIA or contacting them via social media.
I will remain in contact with Igor, and I look forward to the day racing can resume in his country – with our support.
If you want to help Igor and his community personally email us at email@example.com
You can donate to the Red Cross Ukraine appeal here:
FIA social media contacts: