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Invictus Games offer break from war for Ukrainian competitors

The sporting event is for active service personnel and veterans who are ill, injured or wounded.

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A member of Team Ukraine looks out over a lake at the Invictus Games venue in The Hague (Peter Dejong/AP)

A member of Team Ukraine looks out over a lake at the Invictus Games venue in The Hague (Peter Dejong/AP)

A member of Team Ukraine looks out over a lake at the Invictus Games venue in The Hague (Peter Dejong/AP)

Ukrainians who just days ago were on the front line defending their country against Russian forces are preparing to take part in the Invictus Games.

Volodymyr Musyak is preparing to pick up a bow and arrow in the Invictus Games archery competition in the Netherlands.

The sporting event for active service personnel and veterans who are ill, injured or wounded opens on Saturday and ends on April 22 in the Dutch city that calls itself the global centre of peace and justice.

Those concepts seem a world away to the team of 19 athletes from Ukraine and their supporters as they settle in The Hague for the games.

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Volodymyr Musyak is taking part in the games (Peter Dejong/AP)

Volodymyr Musyak is taking part in the games (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Volodymyr Musyak is taking part in the games (Peter Dejong/AP)

“I think that emotionally it’s something that requires time… because we come from a very disturbed area, as we come from the areas where the actual killings every day are happening, the shelling, the bombing, we hear sirens every day,” said Oksana Horbach, Ukraine’s Invictus Games National Coordinator.

One of the team, Taira Paievska, did not even make the trip after being taken hostage by Russian forces in Mariupol where she worked as a paramedic, Ms Horbach said.

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Four Ukrainians who were not due to participate in the games but were active in the worldwide community of injured servicemen and women died in March, two while on active duty and two in rocket attacks, Invictus Games organisers said on their website.

Pavlo Kovalskyi, who is participating in rowing, archery, wheelchair basketball and possibly also sitting volleyball, said that, as well as competing, he wants to spread the word about the harsh realities of war in his homeland.

Travelling to the games gives the 31-year-old a chance “better to tell, convey information to the audience, our friends, our new acquaintances, just fellow athletes, what is happening now”, he said.

Victory is important for us, it is important to prove that we are all unconqueredVolodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the team on via a video link after their arrival.

“Victory is important for us, it is important to prove that we are all unconquered,” he told the participants. “And your team is part of the spirit of indomitability of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and each of us.”

The Ukrainians are among some 500 competitors from 20 nations participating in the Invictus Games. Russia has never taken part in any of the previous games and does not have a team in The Hague.

The event is the brainchild of the Duke of Sussex, who will be in The Hague with his wife Meghan for the opening days of the games, which were twice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The first edition of the games was held in London in 2014, followed by Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017 and Sydney in 2018.

Service personnel compete in athletics, archery, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby as well as a driving challenge organised by one of the event’s official partners, car maker Jaguar Land Rover.

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Ukrainian team members at the Invictus Games (Peter Dejong/AP)

Ukrainian team members at the Invictus Games (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Ukrainian team members at the Invictus Games (Peter Dejong/AP)

For the Ukrainians, the games are a brief respite from the grim realities of life in wartime and an opportunity to highlight the plight of their nation.

Mr Musyak, who suffers from the concussion caused by a mine blast, is competing in events including archery, but has to prepare without his coach, Dmytro Sydoruk, who died in the war.

“On the eve of our departure, he died,” Mr Musyak said. “Whether military or civilian, every loss for us, especially when our children are killed, when civilians are killed, when women are killed, is an irreparable loss.”

And while Mr Musyak is competing in The Hague, his mind is elsewhere.

“We are only the second day here, we got here from the front line and, until now, I’m mentally with my brothers in arms, of course,” he said. “After the end of the competition, we return to the front line to defend our country.”


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