Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.09.2017
The Invictus Games have opened in Toronto, and for the first time Ukraine has sent a team of athletes to compete. Right away, the Ukrainians have become the stars of the competition. A happy crowd of Ukrainian-Canadians sang the Ukrainian National Anthem – “Shche ne vmerla Ukrayiny” – very movingly when Team Ukraine arrived at the airport. Prince Harry, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, and President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko were effusive in their praise for Team Ukraine at the meet-and-greet for the world’s press as the Invictus Games opened.
Prince Harry is the driving force behind the Invictus Games. The Prince was inspired by his own service in the British Army and two tours of duty in Afghanistan to create an international athletics competition that is like the Paralympics but for wounded, ill and injured servicemen and women, both currently serving and veterans. The Invictus Games are in Toronto, Canada this year because 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation – the birth of Canada as a self-governing Dominion.
A consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been going on for three and a half years, is that there are many Ukrainian soldiers and veterans who are wounded, ill and injured. In defence of their homeland, Ukrainian soldiers have lost limbs, lost sight, suffered burns, been paralyzed, and suffered severe psychological trauma. Recovery and therapy and getting back to civilian life is exceedingly difficult after experiencing the horrors of war plus being wounded, made sick or injured. Finding and getting support for wounded soldiers and veterans is made even more difficult by the military and economic warfare which Russia wages unrelentingly against Ukraine.
Team Ukraine at the Invictus Games is small, with 15 members, but they are fierce in their determination to do their country proud in Toronto. The Ukrainian veteran-athletes are getting a lot of attention, especially in Canada and Ukraine. Prime Minister Trudeau and President Poroshenko were both at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City earlier in the week, but on Friday, September 22 they were both in Toronto. The two leaders had wide-ranging talks, and afterwards met the Ukrainian athletes. When Team Ukraine was welcomed by the Canadian politicians, they might have been surprised that some spoke to them in Ukrainian, such as Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj. Prime Minister Trudeau even gave a well-received “Slava Ukrayini!”
Ukrainians feel enormous and justifiable pride in their army. People want to do something to support the armed forces, and they can do that by contributing money at bank machines and contributing to “help our soldiers” efforts at public schools. Volunteers do tremendous work bringing comfort parcels right to the front line and helping wounded soldiers at the military hospitals. Everyone in Ukraine knows someone who “served in the ATO.” Ukrainians are very aware of wounded soldiers. Many are themselves the family and friends who care directly for wounded soldiers. Team Ukraine at the Invictus Games is getting prominent attention back home, for good reason.
The athletes themselves are the most important. At the Invictus Games, Team Ukraine is an inspiration just because they are athletes in competition. They are more than wounded, ill and injured soldiers and veterans, and they are seen to be more, on a world stage. Ukrainians can see the affection that Canadians have for them, and Canadians have a chance to speak from the heart to Ukrainians. The bonds of friendship are deep. The world will see Team Ukraine, these wounded warriors, and be reminded that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is real and it is now and it is personal. Human beings have suffered and are suffering in a war that is far away from Toronto. But the for seven days in September the consequences of that war will be in Toronto – and they’ll be online and on TV and in the newspapers and seen all around the world. More people will ask who these injured veterans are, and how they came to be injured. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “forgotten war” only to those who choose to forget. Team Ukraine competing at the Invictus Games will be a useful reminder to the inattentive.
The competitors at the Invictus Games are an inspiration to the world for their courage, their determination, and their spirit to rise up and overcome the cruel misfortunes of war. “You are all winners,” said Prince Harry. Let the games begin.