The first training camp of the Ukrainian team, which will go to Invictus Games 2020 has taken place this week. During these seven days the team members, including 20 veterans of war in Donbas and wounded or injured servicemen were practicing different kinds of sport and also had qualification.

The trainings took place in three locations: “Koncha Zaspa” Olympic base (rowing on simulators, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, cycling and archery), sports arena of Ivan Piddubnyi Olympic College (athletics) and  swimming pool of “Sport Life” (swimming).

The team members will have a few more months of intensive trainings ahead. Then they will participate in international Paralympic competitions for veterans Invictus Games 2020 in the Hague (the Netherlands) on 9-16 May.

Representatives of “Come Back Alive” Fund went to the Olympic base and asked the members of the Ukrainian team about their preparation for and expectations of participation in Invictus Games.  

“Now I represent my brothers-in-arms, Ukraine and the veteran movement”

It is not easy to meet with the team members because of their tense schedule. Every day will start with breakfast, later team briefings with coachers, sports trainings with breaks for lunch and dinner, other trainings and English classes with a teacher will follow. We managed to meet with the sportsmen in the cafe on the territory of the base, where they came to have a rest and drink a cup of coffee.

Ihor Bezkorovainyi, one of the team members, was wounded near Karlivka in Donetsk oblast in September 2015, when he exploded on an anti-tank mine. As a result, a part of his leg was amputated. Now Ihor works as a state inspector of the Directorate of the Strategic Planning and European Integration of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. He will take part in the Invictus Games for the third time.

Ihor Bezkorovainyi with his coach

“It was difficult to get up so early and immediately have breakfast”, Ihor smiles. “But in a few days I got used to the schedule. In fact, it has been an amazing week: wonderful team and coaches, sufficient number of physical exercises. I can’t say we have got to know each other very well, because every team member had his or her own timetable according to kind of sport they did. But there will be a few more camps, so we’ll have a chance for that”.

Ihor says that waiting was the most difficult thing for him during all stages of the national selection process. He was watching online broadcasting announcing final results together with his colleagues. Both his friends and his family support him. He has been training now in two kinds of sport: rowing on simulators and swimming.

“My story is rather interesting. Having returned from the war, I tried to stay away from the veteran community and I succeeded in it. I did not want to be associated with heroes and veterans. But here I feel at ease. We are on the same wave, we make jokes about things, which only we can understand. It is more difficult to be among the civilians.”

Ivan Lepekha went to the war in July 2014.  He was injured and had a fracture of vertebra in July 2015. Now he helps his brothers-in-arms who have returned from the war. He is involved into a project of psychological rehabilitation of veterans in his native Rivne oblast.

Ivan Lepekha

“I watched the Invictus Games for quite a long time and even thought: “Maybe I can try it?”. But then I thought: “How can I do it? I am not a sportsman”. During the categorisation I mentioned that in 2014-2015 I practiced obstacle racing, the only kind of sport I had ever done”, Ivan says. “Even before the participation in Invictus Games, I started lifting a barbell to distract myself from bad thoughts and everyday difficulties. It was not easy at the beginning, but it gave me much confidence.”

Ivan recollected that when he came for qualifying round to Kyiv, he was panicking especially when he saw the results of the previous testing.

“I wanted to take the first bus and go back home. I have two beloved stimuli at home: my son and my wife. And at this very moment my wife Irynka sent me sms saying: “We believe in you, you are great!”. So, I decided I’d rather be a weak man among my brothers-in-arms, than a coward. I liked the atmosphere during the qualifying rounds, when I was among my brothers-in-arms. By the way, I met many people from my battalion “Aidar” there. Also, I know Andriy Badarak, one of the team members, very well”.

Ivan was in the hospital, when they announced the selection results. It was his wife, who informed him that he had got into the team.

“I was shocked! I was not expecting it at all. I feel a very high level of responsibility because now I represent my brothers-in-arms, Ukraine and the veteran movement in general. I would like to encourage those, who have been wounded or have got concussion, to start doing sport. It is a great relaxation, many bad thoughts just leave you as soon as you start”.

The veteran says that when the training camp comes to the end, he will continue preparing at home: he will practice swimming and will contact his coach regularly.

“I have never swum in the swimming pool before, it is a new experience for me and I enjoy it. I feel like a log, but my coach is making a swimming log out of me”, – Ivan laughs. “Now we’ve been working on breathing techniques and different types of swimming. I try to improve my results.”

Yulia Payevska, more known by her pseudonym of Taira, is the only woman in the team this year and she still serves in the front. She is a paramedic and “Taira’s Angels” unit commanding officer. She was injured during evacuation of a serviceman.

Yulia Payevska

“I did sport a lot, so for me this process is normal and not difficult at all. Except I have never practiced a few kinds of sport simultaneously as I do now: archery, powerlifting and swimming”, Yulia says. “There are unique personalities here, all veterans have their own views and feelings, but we do not have any conflicts. We respect each other and I am very happy about it. Of course, the coaches do not shout: “You must do it! Come on!”. But all team members intend to achieve the best possible results and I also try to do my best. Though I want to stress the results are not very important. I’d love to communicate with representatives of other teams taking part in the Convictus Games to understand how it is possible to help our servicemen better, as I know that veterans from countries with major achievements in this issue will participate in the competitions.” 

Vasyl Stuzhenko, one more team member, ex-soldier of the 40th battalion “Kryvbas”, lost his right arm and leg during battles for Ilovaisk on 24 August 2014. He will participate in Invictus Games for the second time.

Vasyl Stuzhenko

“I travelled around Europe and we were crossing the border between Poland and Czech Republic, when the selection results were announced. Internet connection was interrupted and I could not watch the broadcasting. When we were travelling for approximately 5 minutes on the territory of Poland, I started receiving sms with congratulations. So I found out, I was in the team”, Vasyl smiles. “Now my coach adjusts the equipment, I do archery. I also want to try myself in rowing in simulators. It is not difficult for me to train, moreover I plan to improve my results.”

The veteran recollected how he went to the Invictus Games in Sydney to support the Ukrainian team. He says that medals brought from the competitions are not of the greatest importance.

“I watched the competitions and I know that it is not about winning awards, it is rehabilitation, an opportunity to get satisfaction. But of course, I want to show good results. After having been wounded I returned back to ordinary life, now I do sport and do not regret about anything. I hope my example will inspire the wounded veterans and the whole Ukrainian community”.   

“They asked: “You won’t punish us, will you?”

This year the main selection criterion of the Ukrainian team for the Invictus Games is rehabilitation. This criterion composed the major part of 40% among all four criteria (rehabilitation, attitude, sports ethics, sports result), while the sports result composed the least part of only 10%. These criteria were established by the organisers of the Invictus Games headed by Prince Harry. And members of the Ukrainian team have been selected and prepared for the international competitions among veterans accordingly. 

“The team is very well-organised, all are in the same psychological mood, and you can feel a real mutual support, a real team spirit,” Serhiy Koniushok, sportsman and the head coach of the team says. “Taking into account the fact that all team members are not professional sportsmen, they are still very inspired and enthusiastic about the trainings and try to do their best. There were situations, when they came to us and said: “We understand that we are not professional sportsmen. If we do not show good results, you won’t you punish us, will you?”. We answered: “Invictus Games are not about the medals. Your main goal is to be an example to follow for other veterans who are in depression. You must show that everything is possible, there is no need to isolate oneself, but to step out, to be sociable”. And we as organisers give you this chance. Our mission is to push our state in making everything possible for the veterans and also in improving the inclusivity conditions in general”.

Between the training camps in Kyiv, the team members will be training at home and will be contacting their coaches, who will give them tasks and observe their sports trainings remotely.

“Our coaches are highly qualified sportsmen having both significant personal sports achievements and premium coaching experience”, – Koniushok says. – “The majority of them have never worked with veterans, and it was rather risky to invite them because of that. But the first sports сamp showed there was no miscommunication between professional coaches and the team members. On the contrary, starting from the first training day they had trustworthy relations. At the same time, we have coaches like Dmytro Sydoruk (a winner of Invictus Games in Toronto) and Oleksandr Klymenko who are servicemen themselves and who have already worked with veterans during the last competitions”.

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