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While the whole of Ukraine enjoys the success of the Paralympics in Rio, we decided to enquire about the whereabouts of those who were in favor two years ago. Then in Sochi 2014, Winter Ukrainian national team was preparing for a boycott the games for political reasons. As a result, they decided not to expose the colleagues from the "summer" team by disqualification. After all, they took fourth place in the team standings, and now "summer" colleagues go third.
We met with Olena Yurkovska, a multiple champion and winner of four Paralympic Games, in Chernihiv. Here she is preparing for the World Cup, which will be held in winter 2017.
Now everyone is happy with successful performance Paralympics in Rio, and it is striking, especially taking into consideration not very successful Olympic results. This is not the first time. What is the reason?
I have no answer to this question. But I can guess. Very often, our politicians spoke to the president of the Paralympic Committee Valery Sushkevich: "Why do we need Paralympic sport? It is just giving huge money for nothing." That is, they do not just want to deal with people with disabilities. For us, Paralympians, this competition is the meaning of life. And if your sense of life is under threat of closure, you act on your last legs to get these medals.
So you constantly feel threatened, that the Paralympic movement in Ukraine could collapse?
We are constantly told, even at the World Cup: guys, you have to act with dignity, and it would be a reasonable argument to get funding.
Still, it often happens that we have to train at our own expense, even in the preparation for a competition. However, it happens that then we get the money back. We train in debt.
Just after your victory, everyone cries “hurray” and then forget your name soon. Does this fact upset you?
We get the funding more or less constantly. World Cup is every two years, Paralympics – once in every four years, and the World Cup - every year. We go to train in Chernihiv, Tysovets, there is a new rehabilitation base in Sianky. For some more serious competitions we are trained, for example, in Italy.
Games in Sochi were very stressful. We were going to boycott, but if we did it, the whole team would be disqualified for a few years. That is we would not go to Rio this year.
There is a big scandal in Russia; almost healthy people made fake documents on the disabilities and went to the Paralympic games. As well as doping scandal... Have you heard about this?
They have been training for four years, but they were not allowed for obvious reasons. But there are athletes who did not use doping, but were not let to participate too. I do not know, how it works with "summer" teams. We often face the unfair classification. In my category, I am the healthiest athlete, for example. I have amputation of the legs and my back is not affected.
How do you get along with the Russian athletes? Social media has condemned the recent photos of Paralympics with the Russians.
You know, even in Sochi Russian athletes have been very supportive. We communicate normally, because we cannot blame them for the fact that they have such a president.
Now you can voice some predictions on Ukraine’s chances on the winter Paralympics.
It is unpredictable. Today you are an absolute champion and you cannot be sure about tomorrow. Something can go wrong.
You do not live in Chernihiv. Why do you train here?
My husband's parents live here. I live in their house and do not need to pay the rent. My husband and I live in Vyshneve, near Kyiv.
Why don’t you move to Kyiv?
In 2002, all winners of the Paralympic Games have got an apartment. Lyudmila Kuchma asked me: "What district do you prefer?" I do not know why and where learned about this town Vyshneve, but I was convinced that it was very nice and calm. Then I was given a two-bedroom apartment and a car "Tavria." Now the winners usually get the money, not the apartments. In 2006, Yushchenko promised to equate us to the Olympic team, but did not happen.
Is this question raised today?
They said that already in 2018, everything will be equated. Now "summer" team receives less than the Olympians.
Olympians are now out of favor. Everyone says that it was the worst performance ever. Do you have an explanations?
I showed good results before 2010. And then I something happened. Maybe, I was too self-confident. I was sure that once again I will take the "gold." But Paralympics puts everything in its place, and in Vancouver, I took the "gold," three "silvers" and "bronze."
In Ukraine, we have the lack of attention and money to the sport; young people do not go to professional sports. On the other hand, we read about the American athletes, the state gives them almost nothing.
They have a completely different system. The state provides them with everything needed besides the sport. We have the same all the way around.
Does youth join the competition?
In our kind of competition after Sochi only one new comer has appeared. Perhaps they are afraid of physical exertion.
Do some political moments influence on competition results?
When I am getting ready for a competition, I just disconnect from the world. I do not watch the news. This is the first year when the media covers the Paralympics, and people can follow it like the Olympic Games. I want to believe that the Paralympics is becoming more popular. If this continues over time, it can increase funding.
When did you feel that this situation have changed?
In 2010. Then it became clear that the media began to pay more attention to us, people began to understand more. Even during the last Paralympics, it was necessary to search through the internet to find information on it.
Olympians are paid more attention than the Paralympics. Does this fact upset you?
Earlier, it was a shame. If ordinary people keep cheering us, perhaps we will be an equal footing. And so we probably have to wait until society begins to perceive us as a full-fledged athletes. It is not even about sports, but about relation to persons with disabilities in society in general. Our people, especially the older generation, are not accustomed to the fact that I do not sit at home and knit socks, but have an active lifestyle to achieve some results and get paid some money. I would like people to perceive as a healthy athlete. I perceive myself as such.
Judging by your words, everything is moving to it.
Yes. Especially among young people. They highly esteem that an athlete has achieved the result.