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Wheelchair basketball brings veterans back into society

27 липня відбулося відкрите тренування Національної збірної України на Invictus Games 2023 з баскетболу на візках. Фото: Нікіта Грива, Donbas Frontliner

On 1 August, the second training camp of the National Team of Ukraine for the Invictus Games 2023 ended.

The team trained in wheelchair basketball under the guidance of Taras Shpuk, a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war and a member of the Come Back Alive team. Hannah Walker, the coach of the US national wheelchair basketball team, helped prepare the participants. The event lasted nine days. In addition to training, the team visited rehabilitation centres. The participants worked with psychologists.

On 27 July, an open wheelchair basketball training session was held, which was attended by journalists and military personnel who are currently undergoing rehabilitation. They were also able to try their hand at the sport.

“Unfortunately, there are increasing numbers of veterans with amputations, musculoskeletal disorders, and spinal injuries. Not everyone on the wheelchair basketball team has them, but they work on equal terms. This is a great rehabilitation, a good tool for veterans to return to society,” says Taras Shpuk.

– This adaptive sport appeared in Ukraine in 2020. Until then, we had no equipment for it. We needed special wheelchairs because it was traumatic to play on ordinary ones. Then the United States Air Force team donated 10 wheelchairs to StratCom Ukraine (a non-governmental organisation that selects and prepares the Ukrainian national team for the Invictus Games together with Come Back Alive, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the NGO Games Invictus Ukraine – ed.)

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we had to rescue these wheelchairs. The Russians were already near Kyiv and shelled the rehabilitation centre in Pushcha-Vodytsia, where the wheelchairs were located. They took two buses, put the drivers in bulletproof vests and went with Ilona Voloshyna (national coordinator of the Invictus Games in Ukraine – ed.) to pick them up. On the way out of the city, we came under artillery fire, so we hid in a dugout and moved on. When we arrived, one side of the building was already smashed. We took out the wheelchairs and some medical equipment. Until the Russians withdrew from the capital, we kept everything in the office of the “Come Back Alive”.

Last year, Ukraine took part in wheelchair basketball competitions for the first time at the Invictus Games in The Hague. Now we have formed a team of 11 new people. Among them are those who were injured after 24 February. They sat on wheelchairs for the first time this year in April during the selection process. All of them are motivated and are showing tremendous results. In a short period of time, we have built a really strong team.”

The first training camp of the Ukrainian national team for the Invictus Games 2023 ended on 9 July. The participants trained for 18 days in swimming, archery, athletics, cycling, rowing on simulators, powerlifting, table tennis, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. 

On 15 August, the team will travel to Croatia for the third training camp, which will last about two weeks. From there, they will go to Germany for training, where the Invictus Games will take place in Dusseldorf on 9-16 September.

“Come Back Alive” together with INTERTOP raised UAH 12 031 578 to support the National Team of Ukraine in the Invictus Games 2023 and rehabilitate veterans through sports as part of the “Support the Invincible” project.

Ukraine has been participating in the Invictus Games since 2017. Since 2019, Come Back Alive specialists have been involved in the selection of the team, accompanying it at all stages of preparation and at the competition itself.