Sochi ceremony highlights change

The Winter Paralympics got under way with a colourful opening ceremony designed to highlight Russia's changing attitudes towards disability.

The ceremony at Fisht Stadium in Sochi, entitled 'Breaking the Ice', emphasised the importance of breaking down barriers and overcoming stereotypes through music, dance and animation.

The story line was meant to reflect the inclusion disabled people were now being afforded in Russian society.

This is the first time Russia have hosted the Paralympics, the Soviet Union famously refusing to do so in 1980, when Moscow held the Olympics, saying there were "no disabled people" in the country.

Speaking at the ceremony, International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven said: "If London 2012 has its Games Makers, then you the Sochi 2014 athletes, volunteers, officials and staff will be the Change Makers."

The scenes of the ceremony were linked by the journey of the firebird, a mythical bird from Slavic folklore said to be a symbol of wealth and happiness.

The animated bird travelled from the sun, across Russia and finally arriving in Sochi, evoking the spirit of the country by telling the story of everyday life as it went.

The ceremony featured performances from 25-year-old Yulia Samoylova, the runner-up in the Russian version of the X Factor, Faktor A, who has been in a wheelchair since childhood, and blind accordionist Alexey Levchuk.

The show culminated in a huge ice scene, featuring an Icebreaker ship crashing easily through blocks of ice, before a spectacular lighting of the flame.