Ukrainian Paralympians Win Nearly 30 Medals Despite Ongoing Tragedy at Home

by Matthew Memrick

Ukrainian Paralympians had almost a record-breaking time, winning about 30 medals despite the tragedy at home over 4,000 miles away.

Russia invaded the country weeks ago, but they pushed on. The small group of 20 athletes ventured to Beijing despite not knowing if they’d make it to China for the Olympics. They won 11 gold, ten silver, and eight bronze medals when all was said and done.

The Guardian reported on the Ukraine team’s fantastic showing.

Ukrainian Paralympians Struggled To Get To China

The group’s outstanding medal showing puts them in reach of finishing second at the games. It will be their highest position since they started competing as an independent country 26 years ago.

But before they got there, they could’ve just quit with their country battling a Russian invader.

 “Not coming here would have been taking the easy option,” Ukrainian Paralympic Committee (UPC) president Valeriy Sushkevych said. “Our presence at the Paralympics is a sign that Ukraine is and will remain a country.”

Sushkevych called the trip a “miracle” after a four-day journey to get to the Asian country. But things clicked from the beginning with medals in the biathlon and cross-country events. By the end of the experience, they had represented their countrymen well.

Grygorii Vovchynskyi, who won the standing sprint biathlon on the first day, said it was hard to compete while his country was in turmoil.

“I tried thinking about the competition, but today it’s difficult. What’s more important is life. It’s our people, our children,” Vovchynskyi said. 

His teammate, Oksana Shyshkova, scored three golds and two silvers but started off the Olympic games asking for peace in her country.

At one point, the entire Ukraine delegation had a peaceful protest in the Paralympic village with a moment of silence. But they still worked onward to represent Ukraine.

War On Ukraine Hits Close To Home For Paralympians

Each competitor seems to be affected by the invasion. Nineteen-year-old Anastasiia Laletina got word that Russians took her father prisoner. She pulled out of her event.

Bronze medal winner Dmytro Suiarko lost his home to a Russian attack. He had competed in the men’s vision impaired middle-distance biathlon. Another teammate, Liudmyla Liashenko, won three medals but lost her home.

“Despite that, I’m physically here and competing, all my thoughts, my heart, and my soul is with my family and with my child,” silver medal winner Oleksandra Kononova told The Guardian.

Sure, Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, but they pushed through then, too. They staged another protest then, sending one athlete to the opening ceremony.

This time around, the world has rallied around the group. They competed with grace and composure despite the war at home. Now that the games are over, they’ll fly back to Poland and wait for what comes next. Maybe they’ll make a movie based on the group’s experiences.

 In an address on Friday, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky told his countrymen: “The victories of Ukraine for all of us are worth their weight in gold or silver or bronze. And all this is successfully won by our Paralympians in Beijing. Today, everyone is gaining glory for Ukraine in his or her place. It shows the world who Ukrainians are and what strength we have, with a weapon in hands on the battlefield or with a sporting rifle on a biathlon track.”