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Days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s Paralympic team saw its chances of attending the Games in Beijing fading. But after successfully making the trip as its homeland remains under constant attack, the “miracle” team of 20 athletes has surged to the top of the medal table.
Ukraine took home three gold medals in the biathlon and seven overall after the first day of competition at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing. Vitalii Lukianenko, who won gold in the men’s sprint vision-impaired event, told reporters that Ukraine’s success was “important” for the people back home.
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“I’m really proud that we have the Ukrainian podiums today, because it’s really important for our country … Also, I want to say hello to all my relatives who are in Kharkiv now. Please be strong,” he said, via Reuters. “I want to dedicate this medal to the guys who protect our cities. Not only on the borders of the country, but on the borders of the city they protect us, and I dedicate this medal to them.”
Ukraine’s Vitalii Lukianenko is hugged by Ukraine’s Dmytro Suiarko after the men’s sprint vision-impaired biathlon event March 5, 2022, at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images)
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons said last week that getting the Ukrainian team to Beijing safely would be a “mammoth challenge.” Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych told reporters Thursday it took more than four days for the team to get to China.
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“It’s a miracle that we’re here. … A part of our team was already abroad. A part of our team was in Ukraine. All the necessary equipment was in Ukraine. … We had to unite all those parts,” Sushkevych said.
Oleksandr Kazik of Team Ukraine and his guide Serhii Kucheriavyi, Vitalii Lukianenko of Team Ukraine and his guide Borys Babar and Dmytro Suiarko and his guide Oleksandr Nikonovych of Team Ukraine pose following the men’s sprint vision-impaired biathlon at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre March 5, 2022. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
“It is 25 years I am president of the National Paralympic Committee of the Ukraine. And never was it so difficult, so heavy to come to the Paralympic Games.”
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Sushkevych added it may not be so easy returning home, especially if the fighting escalates.
Members of Team Ukraine show support as they celebrate Grygorii Vovchynskyi (not pictured) of Team Ukraine winning gold in the men’s sprint standing Paralympic biathlon during Day One of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre March 5, 2022, in Beijing. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
No athletes from Russia or Belarus are competing in the Games after the IPC reversed its decision to allow them to compete as “neutrals.”
China is second in the medal table and first in the medal count with two gold medals and eight overall.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.