Ukraine's delegation at the Winter European Youth Olympic Festival Opening Ceremony was warmly received ©Getty Images

Ukraine's delegation here at the Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) was warmly received at the event's Opening Ceremony.

Held outside short track speed skating venue the Vuokatti Areena, the Ukrainian team received the loudest applause during the Parade of Nations which opened the Winter EYOF.

Despite the ongoing conflict in the country following Russia's invasion last month, Ukraine is represented by 26 athletes at the Festival.

It was among the 44 countries paraded at the Opening Ceremony, led as usual by Greece and rounded off by the host nation in Finland.

Speaking at the Opening Ceremony, European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Spyros Capralos said that his thoughts were with those affected by the war in Ukraine, and reiterated his thanks to the various National Olympic Committees (NOCs) who assisted with ensuring the country could compete at the Winter EYOF.

"As we meet here today, our minds are on the devastating war in Ukraine," the Greek official commented.

"I say with deep sincerity that our hearts go out to every single person affected by this crisis.

"We are urgently praying for peace.

EOC President Spyros Capralos said at the Opening Ceremony
EOC President Spyros Capralos said at the Opening Ceremony "our hearts go out to every single person affected by this crisis" in Ukraine ©EOC

"We stand firmly in solidarity with Ukraine and we are honoured to have a delegation of 26 Ukrainian athletes here with us.

"The support of the European NOCs to make this possible is greatly appreciated, particularly that of the Finnish Olympic Committee".

The head of the EOC revealed the Ukrainian athletes "will stay here without having to pay for their accommodation, food and transportation".

NOCs from Finland, Poland, Italy and Austria were among those who provided support, offering clothing and equipment to the Ukrainian athletes.

The United Nations has reported that more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on February 24, and at least 902 civilians have been killed, although it is feared that the true figure is far higher,

Russia's military offensive, supported by its ally Belarus, has led to both countries largely being frozen out of international sport.

The EOC banned their athletes and officials from the Festival earlier this month, following a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"We're in the middle of a war, and unfortunately it was a very difficult decision to ban the Russian and Belarusian athletes, but we did that for the safety of the Games and the integrity of the Games, and I think it's very important to live in such an environment with safe Games so that the athletes feel safe and secure to compete and do their best and excel," Capralos had said at yesterday's media conference.

Discussing the value of the Winter EYOF at the Opening Ceremony, the EOC President - who holds the same position at the Hellenic Olympic Committee and is a member of the IOC - claimed that it would help to instil Olympic values.

"The EYOF is about bringing together the youth of Europe in peaceful competition embracing the Olympic values of friendship, excellence respect," he said.

"Athletes will get a first taste of the Olympic experience, including living together in the Athletes’ Village and interacting with our young ambassadors.

"I want to thank everyone who made this EYOF possible."

The Winter EYOF is open to athletes aged between 14 and 18, and nearly 1,000 are set to participate across five days of competition in Vuokatti.

Nine sports are on the programme, with events beginning tomorrow in short track speed skating, girls' ice hockey and cross-country skiing.