Sport

Paralympics – “Hard to sleep” – Ukrainian athletes try to stay strong

Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games – Para-cross-country skiing
Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games – Para Cross-Country Skiing – Men’s Sprint Sitting Final – National Biathlon Centre, Zhangjiakou, China – March 9, 2022. Wang Tao of China and Taras Rad of Ukraine in action. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 9, 2022

By Dhruv Munjal

ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – What should have been the pinnacle of their sporting lives, the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games were a grueling emotional test for Ukrainian athletes, who felt fear and apprehension about Russia’s invasion of their country.

The Ukraine team excelled in Beijing – winning eight gold medals and finishing third in the table – but standing on the podium was overshadowed by the crisis at home.

“It’s super difficult. Nobody can sleep. You have your phone by your side and you can’t help but scroll to see what’s happening,” Taras Rad, who has won two medals in biathlon, told Reuters.

“And when you get a little sleep, you worry so much that you wake up in the middle of the night… Every time I go back to the (Olympic) Village, the first thing I do is call my family.”

Grygorii Vovchynskyi said his bronze medal in Wednesday’s freestanding sprint was as good as gold.

“I gave everything for my country. I represent Ukraine. i love ukraine Given what happened, this is my gold medal,” the 33-year-old told Reuters.

“We have to stick together, stay strong. We talk to local family and friends there every day and they tell us to focus on the competition, but it’s not that easy.”

The Ukrainian team supported biathlete Anastasiia Laletina, who withdrew from two events after her father, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, was captured by Russian troops.

“We’re not celebrating our medals because of everything that’s happening right now… we want peace in Ukraine,” said Oksana Shyshkova, who took silver in the women’s free visual impairment sprint on Wednesday.

“They bomb (civilian) buildings and people are killed every day. We all have families back there… we just don’t know what to do. We’re really scared. There are little children.”

Russia denies firing on civilian targets in Ukraine.

Whether the athletes will be able to return home after the games is still uncertain – the delegation plans to fly to Poland, from where they will try to get to Ukraine.

“I want to be with my family, my friends, my daughter. I want to go home. We will all discuss and find a way,” Vovchynskyi said.

(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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