Spirit of Ukraine felt on the Paralympic stage

As an adult, Oksana Masters has become a highly-decorated Paralympian with a resume of 12...
As an adult, Oksana Masters has become a highly-decorated Paralympian with a resume of 12 medals- five of them gold
Published: Mar. 6, 2022 at 8:39 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - As Ukrainian citizens continue to show the world a new form of resistance and resiliency in the face of Russian attacks, its twenty athletes have triumphed early in the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games- both on and off the snow.

While Paralympians worldwide have given the aggrieved athletes a warm reception, which included a standing ovation shortly before Friday’s opening ceremony, the men and women wearing the Blue & Yellow have shown they’re not only there to compete but to win.

One of the greatest success stories so far has come in the men’s biathlon sprint- visually impaired. With the help of their guides, Vitaliy Lukyanenko, Oleksandr Kazik, and Dmytro Suiarko swept the podium all with a heavy heart.

The dominance continued in the “standing” classification (Includes limp impairments and cerebral palsy. Times are adjusted to accommodate the athletes’ disabilities). Soon after Grygorii Vovchynskyi clocked in the fastest outcome in gold-medal fashion, he gave an emotional interview to reporters from all over the world.

“It was difficult for me when the war began. I cried every day,” Vovchynskyi said while trying not to cry. “I didn’t understand what happened. What can I do? I can dedicate this race to Ukraine for peace (for the) people in Ukraine. Please stop the war; it’s very important for our children.”

On the same day at the National Biathlon Center, Oksana Shyshkova earned gold for the women in the same event. Liudmyla Liashenko took silver in the women’s standing race, and Taras Rad did the same in the sitting competition (for those with lower-leg amputations and trunk impairments).

The Ukrainian team nearly didn’t make it to Beijing. For them, the trip required a challenging four-day journey- all while staying in contact with International Paralympic Committee chair Andrew Parsons. Once they’ve arrived in China, they’ve held banners that say “Stop War” and “Peace for Ukraine.” While they walked into the Birds’ Nest stadium for Friday’s opening ceremony, all 20 were greeted with thunderous applause.

In recent years, one of the best-known Ukrainian Paralympians has become one of the biggest adaptive-sports icons for the United States. Oksana Masters was born in Khmelnytskyi in 1989, three years after the nuclear reaction in nearby Chernobyl. As a result of the radiation, she was born with severe side effects, including webbed fingers and her legs of different sizes.

Soon after, she was adopted by a loving mother in Louisville, Ky. In 1997, she had surgery which resulted in the loss of her legs. As an adult, she has become a highly-decorated Paralympian with a resume of 12 medals- five of them gold. This week, Oksana has already won gold in the women’s biathlon sprint, followed by a cross-country silver, the women’s 15km race- both in the sitting classification.

Even as she is hailed as one of the fiercest Nordic skiers, she is well-aware of the crisis in Ukraine. Following her victory on Saturday, she tweeted out:

“It’s the Stars and Stripes that keep my Ukrainian heart beating. I’ve always been proud of where I come from, and I can’t wait to race for the two countries that make me whole.”

Oksana will compete in five more events this week in Beijing.

The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games coverage can be seen on NBCUniversal’s various platforms- including USA Network, Peacock, and KCBD-TV.

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