Despite Russian forces wreaking havoc on their native country over the last several weeks, the Ukrainian Paralympic team did not let that stop them from placing second in the total medal count overall during the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing.
On Feb. 24, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine in an attempt to regain control over the country that was a part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.
The Ukrainian Paralympic team arrived in Beijing in early March for the 2022 Paralympics, but not without their loved ones and their beloved country deep in their hearts.
“We’re here to represent our country,” Ukrainian Paralympian Oksana Shyshkova told the New York Times. “To glorify our country, to tell the world that Ukraine exists.”
From March 4-13, Ukraine accumulated a final medal count of 29. They took home 11 gold medals, which placed them only behind host country China with 18. The remainder of their medal count consisted of eight bronze and 11 silver.
Ukraine sent 12 male and eight female athletes to compete in two sporting events in Beijing. Eight of their eleven gold medals were achieved in biathlon with the remaining three in cross-country skiing. In addition to these 20 athletes, nine sighted guides were in attendance to aid several of the athletes with vision impairments.
“We would like to dedicate our results and medals to each and every Ukrainian and all the soldiers in the Ukrainian army who protect us,” Ukrainian Paralympian Iryna Bui told Japan’s Kyodo News. “With our performance, we represent the whole country, and this is our battle, here.”
Bui won one of Ukraine’s gold medals in the women’s ten kilometer, standing in the biathlon. Shyshkova won three gold medals, two of which came in the women’s six and 12.5 km, visually impaired in biathlon. The third came in the women’s 15 kilometer classical, visually impaired in cross-country skiing.
For junior Vitalina Golod of the Sacred Heart University women’s tennis team, the perseverance of the Ukrainian Paralympic team has had a huge impact on her. Golod is the singular Ukrainian athlete at Sacred Heart.
“I am battling and trying to suppress my emotions, but the Paralympic team is channeling them,” said Golod. “You can only imagine the motivation they have, representing their nation.”
Much like her fellow Ukrainian paralympic athletes, Golod is using her sport to help block out all the noise from overseas.
“I remember I chose to go to practice on Thursday, Feb. 24 despite everything,” said Golod. “My teammates were surprised I was there. I explained to them that lying in bed and crying by reading the updates would not help anyone.”
While they may have been wearing gold around their necks as they came back to Ukraine, the Ukrainian Paralympic team brought home something more valuable.
“Although we got a lot of gold medals in the individual sports, I am sure they have brought the forces together and competed as a whole,” said Golod. “We are, indeed, the strongest nation and I’ve never been prouder of being Ukrainian.”