By the time the Paralympic Winter Games began in Beijing, over a million refugees had already fled Ukraine. Since then, another million people have escaped from the war.
Against this traumatic backdrop, Ukrainian athletes have displayed remarkable resilience and have already won a record-breaking 25 medals at the Games.
Ukrainian-born sports psychologist Anastasiya Khomutova told the Sports Gazette:
“It’s a horrible situation when you’re so far away. And meanwhile, your country’s practically been destroyed. And you worry about your family and your friends and your loved ones.
“You don’t know if you will be able to get back to the home that you have. So that must be absolutely terrifying.”
Despite the war, the athletes wanted to compete in Beijing and represent their country.
“I have always been so proud to be Ukrainian, felt so much pride at the sight of the Ukrainian flag, and now more than ever, I am the proudest to say I am Ukrainian.”, Oksana Shyshkova said on her social media. Today she won gold in the Women’s Individual Vision Impaired category in para biathlon.
The Games offer Ukrainian athletes a stage from which they can send their message of Commitment and solidarity to the world. Here they can do something for the Ukraine.
“So just to compete for Ukraine, to make Ukraine proud to help as much as they can, because perhaps not everyone can actually go and actively fight in the war.”, Khomutova says.
The athletes are clearly concerned about events back home. They are sleeping less, but despite this they have the opportunity to compete for their country. Their brothers and sisters are fighting for their lives. Maybe it’s all the motivation they need and it seems to be borne out by Ukraine’s record breaking medal haul.
“Emotionally it’s very difficult to focus and to concentrate on the race and the competition, so this is the most difficult Paralympic Games for me”, says Ukrainian athlete Oleksandra Kononova, who won a silver medal in the Women’s Middle Distance Standing category in para biathlon.
From a sports psychology point of view, Khomutova advises:
“In the situation like this, there are so many things that we cannot actually control. And that is what really hinders performance.
“In this case, just sticking to the routines, whatever you usually do, just keep doing that. At least it will give you a feeling that there is something you can still control.”
The performances of Oksana Shyshkova, among others, are outstanding and earn them medals. But they win not only for themselves but for a whole country fighting for their lives.
Although the victories cannot end the war, they are symbols of peace and a sign that the Ukrainians will not surrender without a fight.
Also check out the article on the athletes’s mentality here.