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Great achievements of Ukrainian athletes at the Paralympics in Beijing


125 Ukrainian athletes who made up the National Team of Ukraine won 74 medals at the 13th Paralympic Games which were held in Beijing, China, in September 2008. The Ukrainian athletes were ranked fourth in the overall ranking of national teams. Valeriy Sushkevych, head of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine and head of the Retired, Veterans and Disabled People Committee of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, was interviewed exclusively for WU by Maryna GUDZEVATA.


Ukrainian Athletes at Paralympics in Beijing

The emblem of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games was “Sky, Earth, and Human Beings”. 148 nations participated in the games with over 4,200 athletes competing in 20 sports — archery; athletics; boccia; cycling; equestrian; football 5-a-side; football 7-a-side; goalball; judo; powerlifting; rowing; sailing; shooting; swimming; table tennis; volleyball; wheelchair basketball; wheelchair fencing; wheelchair rugby; wheelchair tennis.

The Ukrainian athletes participated in 11 events out of the twenty, and won 24 gold, 24 silver and 32 bronze medals. Ahead of the Ukrainian team in the number of medals won were China with 211 medals, Great Britain with 102 medals, and the USA with 99 medals; Australia, South Africa, Canada, Russia, Brazil and Spain were among the top ten teams.

The Ukrainian athletes set 22 world and paralympic records. The Ukrainians were particularly good in swimming, winning 43 medals — 13 gold, 10 silver and 20 bronze. In the track-and-flied events the Ukrainian athletes won 24 medals — 9 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze.

The Ukrainian paralympic soccer team won the gold medals, without losing a single game on the way to winning the championship. They beat Brazil 6:0 at the semi-final and Russia 2:1 in the final.

All in all, 51 Ukrainian athletes — 14 women and 38 men — out of 125 Ukrainian athletes participating — won medals. A great result!


In Beijing, the athletes of the Ukrainian Paralympic team performed excellently, leaving behind many other teams that competed at the Paralympics. It was a breakthrough! How do you account for that?

We’ve been asked this question many times. Back in Beijing, sports commentators kept pestering us with similar questions. This breakthrough, as you’ve put it, came as a great surprise to many, particularly in view of the fact that Ukraine has not been showing good results — to put it mildly — in the economic, financial and social spheres — in the social sphere the situation is particularly deplorable.

The sports achievements of Ukrainian Paralympic athletes is a good example of what can be done when systematic approach is applied, and what athletes with disabilities can achieve if given a chance to train and reveal their potential.

We did not plan something extraordinary for the Paralympics in Beijing — we wanted to stay at least at the sixth place which we had gained in Athens at the previous Paralympics. Incidentally, it was a great result too. But we did better than that.

The achievements at the Paralympics in Beijing is a result of consistent efforts in the sphere of developing paralympic (when it is spelled with the lower case, it suggests athletes with disabilities rather than necessarily those who take part in the Paralympics — tr.) sports in Ukraine. The rates of development in this sphere is one of the highest in the world. These rates were even commented upon in the international media. In Ukraine, the state policies in this sphere go hand in hand with the desires of the people with disabilities.

There is no similar state-run system of paralympic sports anywhere else in the world. Ukraine is a pioneer, we have our own “know-how”. The Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, the National Paralympic Committee and the State-Run System of the Development of Physical Culture and Sports Invasport are all involved in the paralympic sports work. Every Oblast of Ukraine has its own branch of Invasport which is financed both from the state and regional budgets. Also, every Oblast has sports schools for training physically disabled children. Ukraine is the only country among the countries which used to be republics in the former Soviet Union, that has created the center for paralympic sports training, and it is now one of the best in Europe.

Ukrainian Paralympic athletes can successfully compete with such athletes from the countries which are much better off economically, and in which the interests and needs of the disabled people are taken care of much better than in Ukraine.

Victories in sports are victories in life. One of the slogans of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine says: “From Victories in Sports to Victories in Life.”

It would be wrong to say that every disabled person in Ukraine has full access to physical training and sports, but it is through sports that the doors to the world of healthy people are opened for the disabled people.

Has the attitude to the disabled people been changing in Ukraine since it gained independence?

The problems that the disabled people in Ukraine face are rather the problems of the attitude of society to the people with disabilities. The less discrimination of disabled people in society, the less the crippling affect of disability on the physically disadvantaged people is. There are many positive signs in Ukraine as far as society’s attitudes to the disabled people are concerned.

Ukraine is proud that her Paralympic athletes have achieved excellent results in Beijing. We keep receiving letters in which people write that it was the achievement of the Paralympic athletes that have made them reassess their own lives and do something positive for themselves, their families and their country.

The Paralympic athletes have become national heroes. They are recognized in the streets, people greet them and express their admiration.

By their victories, Paralympic athletes have raised the awareness of the Ukrainian government and of Ukrainian society as a whole of the problems the disabled people face in Ukraine, and their achievements. The attitude to the disabled people in education, jobs and other social institutions has begun to change.

A breakthrough has indeed been made in 2008 — a couple of days after the Paralympic Games in Beijing had ended, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko, who went to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (the Convention was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York). The Convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The signing of it by Ukraine’s president means that Ukraine must protect the human rights of the disabled people now. I hope this Convention will be ratified by the parliament soon.

Almost half of the athletes of the Ukrainian Paralympic team won medals in Beijing — it’s a great result!

It sure is, but I, as head of the parliamentary committee that deals with problems that retired people, veterans and disabled people face, am fully aware that every kopeck taken from the state budget and spent on the training of disabled people so that they can win medals, is taken from the financing of other projects and programs which are aimed at facilitating the life of the disabled people who are not athletes.

The National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine chooses the members of the Ukrainian Paralympic team very carefully, and we hope that all the members of the team do their best at the competitions. I find it all but natural that our team has shown such great results in Beijing in winning medals, but in sports you win and lose, you can’t quite predict the results. Some of the athletes had shown much better results during their training before the Olympics, but at the competitions they failed to achieve what they potentially could, not because they physically could not do it, but because they were not quite ready to do it psychologically. We are working on the psychological training, and we hope we’ll even establish a sort of a school of the psychological training for paralympic athletes.

How long did it take Ukrainian Paralympic athletes to get adapted and adjusted to the climatic and other conditions of Beijing?

We always rely on ourselves, rather than on the hosts of the competitions, in creating proper conditions for our Paralympic athletes. Our managers, doctors, coaches and trainers work as one team in a well-coordinated effort. This team did create excellent conditions for our Paralympic athletes in Beijing.

We had begun preparations for the Olympics about eighteen months before they were to be held. It coincided with the visit to Kyiv of Deng Pufang, Chairman of the Chinese Association of the Disabled, the son of the legendary Den Xiaoping, the legendary figure in the Chinese politics of the 1970s and 1980s. Deng Pufang was one of the vice presidents of the Olympic organizing committee. Incidentally, he is confined to the wheel chair. He highly praised the Ukrainian Paralympic team after the Ukrainian athletes won the third place at the Winter Paralympics which was held in Turin, Italy, in 2006, and since he has been showing a keen interest in the progress of our Paralympic athletes.

During my later visit to Beijing, he showed me around the newly built Paralympic Center of China, the principles of work of which have many similarities with what we have in Ukraine. The Chinese did in one year what had taken us five. Our team did their training at the Paralympic Center together with Chinese athletes. I’d like to use the opportunity of this interview and thank our Chinese hosts for everything they did for the Ukrainian Paralympic athletes.

The media had words of praise for the uniform that our Paralympic athletes wore at the Paralympics, and called it “the most handsome” among the uniforms of other countries. It is a tradition among the athletes to exchange certain items of the uniforms after the competitions, and Ukrainian uniforms were in such demand that they were traded at the rate of one item for two or even three items! Incidentally, the uniforms were made by the Ukrainian factory Meiner in the city of Mykolayiv.

Which of the victories of our athletes were particularly memorable for you?

It was the participation of our three girls in the swimming event, designed for the athletes with considerable disabilities. The girls did not have control of their legs and limited control of their arms, and yet Hanna Yelisavetska won the gold medal, Iryna Sotska won the silver, and Natalya Semenova was close to winning the bronze medal. Her fourth place was a great personal achievement. All in all, it was a highly emotional experience.

Five athletes — M. Veraksa, O. Fedyna, S. Klippert, D. Chufarov and A. Kalyna — performed so well that they qualified for the titles of “master of sports” which are based on the standards developed for the able-bodied athletes, not for the disabled ones! Our athletes qualified for that titles for the first time in Ukraine’s paralympic movement. It means that paralympic athletes can compete with able-bodied athletes on equal terms! Andriy Kalyna, for example, has only one arm, but he swims like a fully able-bodied swimmer of the master-of-sports qualification! I find it is more important than setting or breaking world records. For me, it was a particularly moving moment during the Paralympics in Beijing.

I know that the Paralympic soccer team also did very well at the Paralympics in Beijing.

They did great! It’s of a particular importance for me since I was at the very start of the development of Paralympic football in Ukraine. The Ukrainian national Paralympic soccer team beat the Russians in the finals though their team had three able-bodied players on their side.

How could that be?

Unfortunately, the Paralympic sports began to be affected by many of the problems that traditional Olympic sports face — doping, unfair play, biased judges, plus wrong assessments of the levels of disability. We have ample proofs that those three players had been playing for professional soccer clubs in Russia for many years, and then, all of a sudden, they were qualified as “disabled” and allowed to play for the Russian Paralympic soccer team.

The game began with only one able-bodied player on the Russian side. Then the second one appeared, then the third one. In a particularly appalling episode, the Russian goalkeeper who was fully able-bodied, left his goal and joined the attack of his team and shot at the Ukrainian goal. But our boys won the game all the same, against all the odds. The captain of the Ukrainian team Volodymyr Antonyuk has problems of controlling not only his arms but even his leg, and his heroic efforts on the pitch were seen by the fans who cheered him on when he was in possession of the ball. He outplayed the Russians! It was a truly great victory. I was so nervous during the game I kept swallowing tranquilizers…

Can I use this opportunity and thank our sponsors?

Yes, sure, go ahead.

We are grateful to our general sponsor — the Association of the Union of the Gambling Business Entrepreneurs of Ukraine, to our official sponsors — the International Charity Fund Parasport, the Volia Company, the Life:) mobile phone operator, the Internet provider Relkom, the Rodovid Bank, and the Chinese company ZTE, for all the assistance and help they provided.

I’m sure that our victories helped considerably reduce the feeling of inferiority that many of Ukrainians had, and some still have. We have to be optimistic, to look with hope into the future, and I’m confident new victories will come.


Photos have been provided

by the Business Cenre of the National Sports

Committee for Disabled of Ukraine


Winners at 2008 Summer Paralympics


Maksym Veraksa — 4 gold, 1 bronze medal in swimming

Oleksiy Fedyna — 3 gold, 2 silver medals in swimming

Dmytro Vynohradets — 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze medal in swimming

Andriy Kalyna — 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze medal in swimming

Dmytro Kryzhanovsky — 1 gold, 1 silver medal in swimming

Oleksandr Mashchenko — 1 gold, 1 silver medal in swimming

Hanna Yelisavetska — 1 gold medal in swimming

Serhiy Klippert — 2 silver, 4 bronze medals in swimming

Danylo Chufarov — 1 silver, 1 bronze medal in swimming

Iryna Sotska — 1 silver medal in swimming

Biktor Smyrnov — 3 bronze medals in swimming

Olena Akopyan — 3 bronze medals in swimming

Dmytro Alekseyev — 2 silver medals in swimming

Yuliya Volkova — 1 bronze medal in swimming

Yaryna Matlo — 1 bronze medal in swimming

Iryna Balashova — 1 bronze medal in swimming

Anton Stabrovsky — 1 bronze medal in swimming

Andriy Sirovatchenko, Taras Yastremsky, Yevhen Poltavsky, and Andriy Kalyna — bronze medals in swimming relay

Roman Pavlyk — 2 gold, 1 silver medal in running

Inna Dyachenko — 2 gold medals in running

Vasyl Lishchynsky — 1 gold medal in discus throw, 1 bronze medal in short put

Oksana Boturchuk — 1 gold, 2 silver medalsin running

Oksana Zubkovska — 1 gold medal in long jump

Alla Malchyk — 1 gold medal in short put, 1 bronze medal in discus throw

Tetyana Yakybchuk — 1 gold medal in discus throw

Viktoriya Kravchenko — 2 silver medals in running

Ivan Kytsenko — 1 silver medal in triple jump

Mykola Zhabnyak — 1 silver medal in discus throw

Mykyta Senyk — 2 silver medals in running

Oleksandr Ivanyukhin — 1 bronze medal in running

Andriy Onufriyenko — 1 bronze medal in running

Oleksandr Yasynovy — 1 bronze medal in discus throw

Svitlana Horbenko — 1 bronze medal in long jump

Lidiya Solovyova — 1 gold medal in powerlifting

Oleksandr Petrenko — 1 silver medal in rowing

Serhiy Shenkevych — 2 bronze medals in wheelchair fencing

Serhiy Sydorenko — 1 bronze medal in judo

Mykola Lyvytsky — 1 bronze medal in judo

Volodymyr Antonyuk, Kostyantyn Symashko, Ivan Shkvarlo, Andriy Tsukanov, Taras Dutko, Anatoliy Shevchyk, Oleksandr Devlysh, Denys Ponomaryov, Vitaliy Trushev, Ihor Kosenko, Serhiy Vakulenko, Mykola Mikhovych — gold medals in football, 7-a-side team


President Yushchenko presents the Order of

the Hero of Ukraine to Valeriy Sushkevych, head

of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine.


Valeriy Sushkevych and Oleh Boyko, Parasport

head, at the game when the Ukrainian soccer

team beat the Russians in the final.


Ukrainian national team, led by Valeriy Sushkevych,

at the opening of the 13th Paralympic Games

in Beijing.


At the ceremony of hoisting the Ukrainian flag

at the Paralympic Village in Beijing.


Volodymyr Antonyuk (center), the best player

of the Ukrainian football 7-a-side team,

in winning action against the Russians.


Serhiy Klippert (left) and Maksym Veraksa (right).

Serhiy collected 2 silver and 4 bronze medals, and

Maksym outperformed everybody else —

4 gold medals and 1 bronze medal!


Hanna Yelisavetska, the Paralympic champion

in swimming.


Oleksandr Yasynovy and Vasyl Lishchynsky

excelled in the discus throw event, collecting,

correspondingly, the bronze and the gold medal.


Lidiya Solovyova, the gold medal winner

in powerlifting.


Dmytro Vynohradets won 1 gold, 1 silver,

1 bronze medal in swimming.


Oleksandr Petrenko came second in rowing.


Inna Dyachenko, a two-time winner in running.


Dmytro Kryzhanovsky received 1 gold and

1 silver medal in swimming.


Alla Malchyk was the 1st in the short put, and

the 3rd in the discus throw event.


Oleksiy Fedyna collected five medals — 3 gold and

2 silver — at the Paralympics in Beijing.


Andriy Kalyna was another winner with

3 medals — 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze.


Danylo Chufarov was among those who qualified

for being awarded the titles of “master of sports”

designed for the able-bodied athletes;

his achievement was

1 silver medal and 1 bronze medal.


Roman Pavlyk collected 2 gold medals and

1 silver medal in the running event.


Iryna Sotska won the silver medal in swimming.

Here, she is greeted by the Ukraine’s Prime

Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

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