Two days after entering Beijing amid the backdrop of Russia’s invasion, para biathlon athlete Grygorii Vovchynskyi has claimed Ukraine’s first gold medal, calling for peace as he helped his country top the medals leaderboard on the opening day of the Winter Paralympics.
Vochynskyi triumphed in the men’s standing sprint early on Saturday afternoon in Zhangjiakou before Oksana Shyshkova and Vitalii Lukianenko claimed gold in the women’s sprint vision impaired and men’s sprint vision impaired respectively.
The Ukranians also landed three silver medals and one bronze in para biathlon, with their three gold and seven total medals edging hosts China (two gold, eight total).
Ukraine has consistently been a standout in para biathlon but the ban on Russian athletes, expelled with their Belarusian counterparts on Thursday after the International Paralympic Committee backflipped on Wednesday’s decision to allow them to compete as neutral athletes, removed strong competitors from the sport.
In claiming his first Paralympic gold medal, Vochynskyi dedicated his victory to his country.
“It’s very important for us in Ukraine. Today I represented my country. It’s a difficult time, I am worried and afraid,” he said.
“I was thinking before the race, I must try to do everything for Ukraine. I must think about war, about my country, about my people, about my president. I love Ukraine.
“I love sport, but today I ran because I want life in Ukraine to move to the future. Please stop war, it’s very important for our children.
“It was difficult for me when the war began. I cried every day. I didn’t understand what happened.
“What can I do? I can dedicate this race to Ukraine, for peace (for the) people in Ukraine. It’s first place for my country.”
Less than two hours after her compatriot, Shyshkova and sighted guide Andriy Marchenko added gold in the women’s sprint vision impaired – an event she’d claimed silver at in PyeongChang and bronze in Sochi.
Lukianenko and sighted guide Borys Babar then won gold in the men’s vision impaired ahead of compatriots Oleksandr Kazik (guide: Serhii Kucheriavyi) and Dmytro Suiarko (guide: Oleksandr Nikonovych).
Taras Rad claimed Ukraine’s first medal of the Games earlier in the day, winning silver in the men’s sprint sitting, before Liudmyla Liashenko finished second in the women’s standing.
Ukraine’s Paralympians have consistently referred to the Beijing Games as their own front line in the war.
“We have only been here for two days,” Liashenko said.
“We arrived and we haven’t had any time, just one training session, and there is also the difficulty of getting used to the time difference and everything.
“I’m really glad that I finished and brought this medal to Ukraine, but I do not feel very raw emotions nowadays because of the war in Ukraine, and (the fact that) my family is there.
“I’m trying to defend my country here. I’m trying to show my best results here to represent Ukraine here like our army does in Ukraine, like everyone who is in Ukraine now trying to defend our motherland.”