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Days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Paralympic team saw its chances of attending the Beijing Games dwindle. But having made it through the trip under constant attack on their homeland, the “miracle” team of 20 athletes rose to the top of the medal table.
Ukraine has won three gold medals in biathlon and seven overall after the first day of competition at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. Vitalii Lukianenko, who won gold in the men’s sprint event for the visually impaired, told reporters Ukraine’s success was “important” for 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 at the borders of the country, but at the borders of the city, they protect us, and I dedicate this medal to them.”
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons said last week that getting the Ukrainian team to Beijing safely would be a “colossal challenge”. Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych told reporters on Thursday that it took the team more than four days to get to China.
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“It’s a miracle that we are here. … Part of our team was already abroad. Part of our team was in Ukraine. All the necessary equipment was in Ukraine. … We had to unite all these parts” , said Sushkevych.
“I have been President of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine for 25 years. And never has it been so difficult, so heavy to come to the Paralympic Games.”
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Sushkevych added that it might not be so easy to get home, especially if the fighting intensifies.
No athletes from Russia or Belarus are taking part 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 tally with two gold medals and eight overall.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.