The Ukrainians finished fifth in the overall medal ranking in Tokyo with 98, just six less than the United States, despite a much smaller delegation.
TOKYO - In American sports terms, the Paralympians of Ukraine are a little marvel, the Slavic equivalent of Oakland Athletics.
At the Tokyo Paralympic Games, which ended on Sunday, the Ukrainians finished fifth in the overall medal ranking with 98, just six down than the US Each of the top four countries - China, Britain, Russia, and the US - had more than 220 athletes in Tokyo, while Ukraine hosted 139.
"It 'sa small country that clearly exceeds its weight," said Craig Spence, senior spokesperson for the International Paralympic Committee.
The success was not matched by the Ukrainian Olympians, who finished 16th in the overall Tokyo medal standings last month. They won a gold medal, four less than Maksym Krypak, whose seven swimming medals - five gold, plus one silver and one bronze - made him the most decorated athlete at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Ukraine hasbeen one of the top six countries in the number of medals at nine consecutive Paralympic Games, summer and winter, despite being consistently ranked among the poorest countries in Europe and cited by the United Nations as a difficult home for people disabled. Image The Ukrainian team at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Credit ... Chang W. Lee / The Hfrance.fr
This sporting success has been virtually uninterrupted in recent years, despite the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, which effectively cut off Ukrainian Paralympic contenders from their top training center on the Black Sea. Technically, Ukraine is ris the owner of the center, but Valerii Sushkevich, long-time Member of Parliament and chairman of the National Paralympic Committee, said its use was too complicated.
A new center with the required adapted equipment remains unfinished in Dnipro, a town in a government-controlled part of eastern Ukraine.
Sushkevich, 67, grew up under Soviet rule, using a wheelchair and becoming a competitive swimmer despite strong prejudices against public displays by people with disabilities.
" It was not so good for the photo of the Soviet Union "Sushkevich said via 'an interpreter, recalling that he had indeed been told: "You must be outside of this company.
The Soviets pledged toexcel at the Olympics but only sent athletes to the Paralympics in 1988, the last cycle before the country completely disbanded in 1991. Image Maksym Krypak won seven medals at the Paralympic Games in this year. Credit ... Chang W. Lee / The Hfrance.fr
Ukraine made its first Paralympic appearance as an independent country at the Olympic Games. 'Atlanta in 1996, winning just seven medals, equivalent to Krypak ' s total in Tokyo.
But Sushkevich was building a program, Invasport, that would place sports centers for people with disabilities in each of Ukraine's two dozen oblasts, or sports schools for children.
"Invasport combined a state system and a non-government system, ”he said, and his aim was to empower people to become active as much as to favor Paralympians.
But there was a substantial incentive to build a sports career. Without it, people with disabilities had few options for a living.
"Before sport I had virtually nothing. In fact, not practically; literally, I had nothing, "Lidiia Solovyova, two-time Paralympic weightlifting champion, title told the BBC in 2012.“ I didn't have an apartment. I didn 't have a salary. I did not havegood retirement. But now, thanks to sports, I have all of these things. "
Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office, confirmed that people with disabilities in Ukraine in general have very limited prospects.
"There is a worryingly high degree of institutionalization of people with disabilities in Ukraine, rather than providing family and community services, "She wrote in an email, adding:" Inclusive education for children with disabilities remains a rarity rather than the norm. It is the result of limited infrastructure and strong negative attitudes in society.
Oksana Boturchuk, quadruple Paralympic runner who won three silver medals in Tokyo, said she had become a little more recognizable in Ukraine after the outing this year of "Pulse ", a film about his life.
" But in my country Paralympic athletes are not very popular, "she said. “And everyone is surprised to know who I am. They say, "Oh, are you a Paralympic silver medalist? Image An Invasport swimming lesson in Brovary, Ukraine. From left to right, Valera Bozhko, 18, blind from birth; the coach of the team Anzhela Stelmakh; Vladislav Voznyuk, 17; and Nikita Gorbach, 13. Credit ... Brendan Hoffman for Le Hfrance.fr
This summer, Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, visited to the country's Paralympic team before their tripin Tokyo and apologized "for the fact that no President was personally present to send our Paralympians to the Summer and Winter Games for all these years.
Two substantial changes happened ahead of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games: live broadcasts of events and an increase in the corresponding bonus money what the Olympians received.
Sushkevich said the prize is around $ 125,000 for a gold medal, $ 80, 000 for silver and $ 55,000 for bronze. Previously, he said, the awards were around $ 40,000 for gold, $ 26,000 for silver and $ 8,000 for bronze, roughly what the US Olympians and Paralympians did. now receive.
This summer's results, Sushkevich conceded, were disappointing compared to the country's third place (behind China andGreat Britain) in the 2016 medal tally, which included 41 gold medals compared to 24 this year. (The International Paralympic Committee officially ranks teams by gold medals, not the overall total.)
The return of competitors from Russia, who have excluded in 2016 due to revelations about a state-sponsored doping program, virtually guaranteed a lower ranking than Ukraine this summer. And Ukraine 's smallest delegation rarely includes competitive entries in sports like wheelchair basketball and rugby or goalball, sports in which the United States accumulates a lot of material.
"A lot of people around me told us that we had a very good result in 2016 because we were higher than the US", a said Maxym Nikolenko, three-time Paralympian who won a gold medalthat year and a silver and bronze medal in Tokyo. "I'm sorry, " he sheepishly added, "but they were really proud of it. Image Roman Gusha, 16, doing tricks for a Invasport course. Credit ... Brendan Hoffman for France. en
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.