Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has spoken of his disappointment at the IOC's stance on Russia and Belarus ©Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy has invited International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to the war-torn city of Bakhmut to "see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist" after opening the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to potentially return to the global stage.

The IOC has confirmed a pathway for the participation of athletes from the two nations should be "further explored" after receiving support in recent consultation calls.

The organisation warned that this would be under "strict conditions" of neutrality, and only for athletes who "fully respect the Olympic Charter", with sanctions including a ban on Russian and Belarusian national symbols remaining in place.

The approach has also been defended by Bach, who insisted that it "does not correspond to the values and the mission of the Olympic Charter to excluse athletes of their passport" in an interview with German publication Der Spiegel.

Bach also said that a possible boycott of Paris 2024 by Ukraine due to Russian participation was "not in line with our mission".

"We know the view of Ukraine, which not only wants to isolate Russia as a state but also wants to isolate all Russians completely," said Bach who insisted that the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes was still "under consideration".

However, Zelenskyy has criticised Bach’s stance as he invited the German official to Bakhmut - a city in the eastern region of Donetsk - that is under bombardment from Russian troops.

Ukrainian figure skater Dymtro Sharpar was recently killed aged 25 during fighting in Bakhmut.

"I spoke with him several times and I never heard how he is going to protect sports from war propaganda if he returns Russian athletes to international competitions," said Zelenskyy during a five-minute video on Twitter.

"There is no such thing as neutrality when a war like this is going on and we know how often tyrannis try to use sports for their ideological interests.

"It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.

"I do not want to get into what exactly motivated Mr Bach to promote such an initiative but we will do everything so that the world will protect sports from political and any other influence of the terrorist state which is simply inevitable if Russian athletes participate in competitions and especially at the Paris Olympics.

"Ukrainian athletes are forced to defend the lives of their loved ones and the freedom of our people from Russian aggression.

"Russian strikes took the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian men and women who could have brought their talents to world sports.

"Russia must stop aggression and terror and only after that it will be possible to talk about Russian participation in the context of the Olympic Movement.

"Olympic principles and war are fundamentally opposed to each other."

Ukrainian city Bakhmut remains under siege almost a year after Russia's invasion ©Getty Images
Ukrainian city Bakhmut remains under siege almost a year after Russia's invasion ©Getty Images

By early last month, only between 7,000 and 15,000 of Bakhmut's pre-war population of 80,000 remained in the city.

The number of casualties is not known, but it has been estimated that those killed in fighting could run into the thousands.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian Government warned that ussian forces are "intensiftying" their attacks in the area.

"The enemy is throwing a significant number of personnel, weapons, and military equipment into the battle, trying to break through our defenses, [and] is suffering significant losses but is not giving up its plans," Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar Maylar wrote on Twitter.

"The intensity of the fighting is increasing."

It is feared that water is running out in the city. 

"The situation at the front and in particular in the Donetsk region, near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, remains extremely acute," Zelenskyy said in his Twitter video. 

"The occupiers are not just storming our position, they are deliberately and methodically destroying these towns and villages around them.

"Artillery, aviation and missiles.

"The Russian army has no shortage of means of destruction and it can only be stopped by force.

"Our soldiers, who are defending the areas in the Donetsk region, are real heroes.

"I thank each of you guys for your bravery.

"And by the way, I invite Mr Bach to Bakhmut so that he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist."

IOC President Thomas Bach, left, has been invited to  Bakhmut by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, to see that
IOC President Thomas Bach, left, has been invited to Bakhmut by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, to see that "neutrality does not exist" ©Getty Images

The IOC has claimed that "the vast majority of the participants in each of the consultation calls" supported its stance on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

These include a view that "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport" and "Governments must not decide which athletes can participate in which competition and which athletes cannot".

The IOC reiterated that the Olympic Council of Asia's (OCA) offer was "welcomed and appreciated", but noted each International Federation is the "sole authority" of its international competitions.

The OCA said it "remains on standby" to welcome Russian and Belarusian athletes, to events including the delayed Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games.

The European Olympic Committees also released a statement saying that it "does not feel athletes should be prevented from competing solely on the basis of which passport they hold".

Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Guttsait has warned the country will consider boycotting next year's Olympic Games in Paris if athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete, while Zelenskyy has urged French President Emmanuel Macron to help ensure they are not represented.

insidethegames has contacted the IOC for comment.