Unbroken in spirit: Ukraine’s veterans to compete at prestigious US games

A team of 30 Ukrainian veterans and servicemen and women has left for the United States Air Force and Marine Corps Trials 2024, an Air Force sports competition to be held in Las Vegas, USA.

The United States Air Force and Marine Corps Trials in Ukraine is organized by the Ministry of Veterans jointly with the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation, the NGO “Come Back Alive!”, the charity organization “Stratcom Ukraine” and the NGO “Games Invictus Ukraine”.

The role of sport in veteran diplomacy

“The trials of war, injuries, and the difficult path of rehabilitation require extraordinary strength of mind and will. “Veteran sport is the language of invincibility!” is not just a saying, it is our reality. Through sport, we show that despite all obstacles, we are able to reach great heights, demonstrating our invincibility and leadership to the world,” said Oleksandr Porkhun, Acting Minister of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine.

Moreover, Oleksandr Porkhun noted that the participation of Ukrainian veterans in international competitions such as the Air Force and Marine Corps Trials is important not only as a sporting event, but also as a powerful tool of veteran diplomacy and an indicator of national resilience.

“I bow to you for what you have already done, for what you continue to do. Your struggle continues. And today you have a new mission: in addition to reminding the world of our invincibility and our strength by your example, when you return home, you will return your fellow soldiers to normal life by your own example. And this is the most noble mission — to help those around you,” said Matvii Bidnyi, Acting Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, addressing the team members.

The Ukrainian team will participate in the games for American veterans for the first time. The organizers of the U.S. Air Force Games invited the Ukrainian team to join the qualifying competitions and demonstrate the impact of adaptive sports on the recovery of veterans and military personnel after injuries.

Strength of mind and rehabilitation through sports

“The reintegration of veterans and servicemen after injuries through physical activity is crucial. It not only helps to restore physical strength, but is also a powerful tool for psychological rehabilitation. Sports and exercise help to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, improve mood and promote socialization. The Ukrainian Veterans Foundation recognizes this need and actively supports relevant initiatives. We have already funded 8 projects aimed at engaging veterans in physical activity through competitive programs. This year, we plan to hold 5 competitions, two of which will be aimed at supporting public associations. We are convinced that providing active financial support to initiatives aimed at helping veterans and their families return to active life in society and helping to restore their physical and mental health will be the foundation for building a strong and healthy community,” says Ruslana Velychko-Tryfoniuk, Acting Executive Director of the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation.

Team captain Yurii Haponchuk: “Sport has always been a part of my life, even after I hit a landmine and lost my foot. Recovering from the injury was difficult, but thanks to gym training and sitting volleyball, I realized that my life activity should not be limited. These sports have given me a new purpose and confidence that I can continue to live my life to the fullest despite my physical limitations.”

Veteran sport as a tool of resilience

For the participants of the competition, it is not only physical activity, but also a demonstration of achievements and struggle, both at the front and in sports, as well as an opportunity to thank partners for their ongoing support.

Timur Leon, a member of the national team, emphasized: “These international competitions are an opportunity to show how unbreakable the Ukrainian nation is. When I decided to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine, my life changed forever. Choosing the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade was not just a military duty, but a place where my skills and knowledge could be applied. Commanding the unit has become my new reality, where every day is a challenge and an opportunity to become stronger.”

The main goal of the United States Air Force and Marine Corps Trials 2024 is to engage veterans and the military in sports and promote rehabilitation through sports among veterans.

In December, Kyiv hosted the All-Ukrainian Adaptive Sports Competition, after which the selection committee formed a team of 30 participants — veterans and active military. The participants competed in a variety of disciplines, including cycling, indoor rowing, athletics, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, powerlifting, swimming, and archery.

Prospects for Ukrainian veterans on the international stage

“Each member of our team is an embodiment of honor and respect. Your courage, your unbreakable spirit, your thirst for victory is a source of inspiration for us all. Every day you demonstrate that there are no limits to achieving goals when you have faith in yourself and strength of spirit,” said Olena Yanovska, head coach of the National Team of Ukraine.

On Sunday, March 3, the organizers of the competition in Ukraine, journalists, family and friends of the participants gathered at the platform of the Ukrainian Railways in Kyiv to welcome the national team. The participants will feel support from everyone throughout the competition.

From March 4 to 16, 2024, representatives of Ukraine will take part in the United States Air Force and Marine Corps Trials 2024 in the United States. They will compete in nine adaptive sports: archery, athletics, cycling, powerlifting, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby.

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