The Hague, Netherlands ( Associated Press) — Until a few days ago, Volodymyr Musayk was on the front lines defending Ukraine from Russia’s devastating attack on his country., Now he is preparing to take bow and arrow in the Invictus Games archery competition.
The sporting event for active service personnel and veterans who are sick, injured or injured opens Saturday and ends on April 22 in the Dutch city that calls itself a global center for peace and justice.
Those concepts seem a world away for Ukraine’s team of 19 athletes and their supporters as they settle in The Hague for the Games.
“I think emotionally it’s something that needs time … because we come from a very disturbed area because we come from areas where real killings are happening every day, shelling, bombing, We hear sirens every day,” said Oksana Horbach, Ukraine’s Invictus Games national coordinator.
One of the team, Taira Pievska, still could not travel after being taken hostage by the Russian military in Mariupol, where she worked as a paramedic, Horbach said.
Organizers of the Invictus Games said on their website that four Ukrainians who were not due to participate in the Games but were in the worldwide community of wounded soldiers and women in March, two on active duty and two were killed in rocket attacks.
Pavlo Kowalski, who has competed in rowing, archery, wheelchair basketball and possibly volleyball, said that along with competing, he wants to spread the word about the harsh realities of war in his homeland.
Traveling to the Games gives the 31-year-old a “better opportunity to tell, to inform the spectators, our friends, our new acquaintances, just fellow athletes, what’s happening now,” he said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the team via a video link after the team’s arrival.
“Victory is important to us, it is important to prove that we are not all victorious,” he told the participants. “And your team is part of the indomitable spirit of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and each of us.”
The Ukrainians are among some 500 competitors from 20 countries participating in the Invictus Games which begin with an opening ceremony on Saturday and end on 22 April. Russia has never participated in the previous Games and there is no team in The Hague.
The event is the brainchild of Britain’s Prince Harry, who will be in The Hague with his wife Meghan for the opening days of the Games, which were twice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The first edition of the Games was held in London in 2014, followed by Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017 and Sydney in 2018.
Service personnel compete in athletics, archery, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby, as well as in a driving challenge organized by carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, one of the event’s official partners.
For Ukrainians, the game is a brief respite from the grim realities of life in times of war and an opportunity to highlight the plight of their nation.
“Death, destruction, rape, everything, it’s something that my competitors and team staff members experience every day,” Horbach said. “So it needs to be heard, it needs to be told. It’s very important to us that as Ukrainians, we have a voice in who we are, what we do and what we experience every day since February 24.” Yes, it is a platform to give voice.
Musayak, who has been injured by a mine explosion, is competing in other competitions, including archery, but has to prepare without his coach Dimitro Sidoruk, who is killed in battle.
“On the eve of our departure, he died,” said Musayk. “Every loss to us, military or civilian, especially when our children are killed, when civilians are killed, when women are killed, is an irreparable loss.”
And while Musik is competing in The Hague, his mind is elsewhere.
“We are here only for the second day, we have come here from the front line and as of now, I am mentally in arms with my brothers,” he said. “After the end of the competition, we return to the front lines to defend our country.”
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