Ukraine using athletes to highlight fight for freedom

Ukraine para-badminton

Ukraine’s para-badminton team used Malaysia as its base last year, and Oksana Kozyna created history by becoming the country’s first world champion last November when she won gold in the SL3 (Standing/lower limb impairment/severe) category in Tokyo, Japan.

The team was back in Malaysia this year to train for the Thailand Para-Badminton International in Pattaya, from May 9-14, and the Bahrain Para-Badminton International (May 17-23), two of many 2024 Paris Olympics qualifying tournaments. They were joined by their able-bodied teammates.

The country also plans to send several rhythmic gymnasts to the Piala Puteri Championships at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil in December, besides sending athletes to other countries to train and prepare for the Summer Games.

Denys Mykhailiuk, the Charge d’affaires at the Ukraine Embassy in Malaysia, said the country will use its athletes to tell the world about the atrocities committed by Russia in the invasion that began in February 2022.

“Due to the war, our athletes cannot train regularly, but they still want to share their knowledge and their accomplishments with the world,” said Mykhailiuk.

“They will also share their experience of what it is like to train with bombs going off near sports centres.

“We have a good relationship with Malaysia. Our para-badminton team benefited by training here, and we can reciprocate by bringing our gymnasts to compete in the Piala Puteri Championships.

“They can compete and train with the Malaysian girls and share their experiences, to bring them to the next level.”

Mykhailiuk said that while the Russian invasion had wreaked untold devastation, it has made Ukraine more open to communicating with the outside world.

“We have no choice but to open up and speak to the other countries and tell them what is happening to our beautiful country,” he said.

“Our athletes can help tell our story. They can explain the hardships they go through to train.

“Sadly, many of our athletes have died since the war began.”

He said Malaysia is a lucky country as it is peaceful.

“You should be grateful that the only ‘war’ you have is between political ideologies and parties. Malaysia is a blessed country,” said Mykhailiuk.

He added: “We fought for freedom and equal rights for women at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, we are now fighting for the freedom of our country, with women fighting alongside the men to rid of our oppressors.”

Mykhailiuk said Ukraine will continue trying to convince the International Olympic Council (IOC) to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing under a neutral flag at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“The modern Olympics was founded on the ideals of peace. It does not make sense to allow those from warring nations to compete in Paris,” said a determined Mykhailiuk.

“Many Russian athletes are affiliated to clubs that have military ties. Why should they be allowed to compete in a peaceful competition like the Olympics?

“How can our athletes shake the hands of someone from Russia or Belarus, knowing they support what is happening in our country.”

He cited the example of fencer Olga Kharlan, who refused to shake hands with her Russian opponent,  Anna Smirnova, at the World Championships in Milan, Italy, in July.

Kharlan won the match 15-7 but was disqualified for refusing to shake Smirnova’s hand. Smirnova staged a 45-minute protest after the incident.

However, the International Fencing Federation later rescinded the ban.

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal warned that the country and 35 other states were “ready to boycott” Paris 2024 if the IOC allowed Russia and Belarus to compete, even under a neutral flag.

He also said 340 Ukrainian athletes and coaches had died in the conflict. The war also destroyed 343 sports facilities.

His comments came hours after the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine (NOCU) president and the country’s Sports Minister, Vadym Gutzeit, claimed that they had dropped plans to stay away from Paris 2024.

NOCU later said: “Our athletes need to be at the Olympics. Our flag will be at the opening ceremony, and at the competitions, our athletes will represent our state, so that everyone in the world will see that Ukraine is, was, and will be.”

Meanwhile, the Ukraine football association will boycott all Uefa competitions after the body announced plans to reinstate Russia’s Under-17 sides to all. European competitions.

Main image: The Ukraine para-badminton team at last year’s European Championships. The team trained in Malaysia last year.

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