Ukraine’s Winter Paralympics team ended their journey in Beijing with a record gold medal haul despite being severely affected by Russia’s invasion back home.
The team of 20 athletes were initially unsure if they would even compete in the event given that the games started a week after Russian troops entered Ukraine on 24 February.
However, the conflict in their country fuelled the athletes to achieve their best finish in Paralympic history – finishing second on the medal table with 11 gold medals to their name.
This is the best result they have achieved since they began competing as an independent nation in 1996.
The Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said it was a “miracle” that the athletes were even at the event, let alone making history.
“Not coming here would have been taking the easy option. Our presence at the Paralympics is a sign that Ukraine is and will remain a country,” she said.
The events in Ukraine made life increasingly difficult for the Ukrainian athletes, receiving devastating news from the invasion each day.
Oksana Shyshkova was one of Ukraine’s best performers, winning three gold medals and two silver medals but all she wanted was for peace in her country.
“I do not have any hopes, I just want peace for Ukraine,” she said.
The entire Ukraine team on Thursday staged a peace protest in the Paralympic village, holding a banner that said, “Peace for all” and holding a minute’s silence for those who have become victims of the military operation.
Despite the games being held in Beijing, that did not stop the conflict from affecting the games, 19-year-old Anastasiia Laletina pulled out of her event after finding out her father was captured by Russian forces.
The absence of Russian athletes added to the success of Ukraine in Beijing, deserved success as their country faces tragic times.
International Paralympic Committee spokesperson Craig Spence said Ukraine’s story in Beijing has all the makings to someday become an inspirational film.
The team plans to fly into Poland at the end of the games on 14 March and are yet to decide what they will do next.
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