Ukrainian swimmer makes the most of his one-time opportunity

Ukrainian swimmer Bogdan Oksentiuk is making the most of his time in the sun – the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.

One of the criteria for the Ukraine team is that it’s a one-time opportunity. Once a competitor has been selected, he or she doesn’t go a second time.

So Oksentiuk is wasting no time soaking up all the Games has to offer. But he also wants to remind other nations what the situation is like in his home country.

“I have three messages for the West,” he said after a training session in the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre. The swimming events will be held over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Firstly, we need to tell the world there is still a war happening in Ukraine,” said Oksentiuk.

“Secondly, we want to represent our country just like Americans, the British, Australians and other countries want to show their country.

“Thirdly, each one of us is highly motivated to compete in Sydney because we know some of our comrades are in a far worse situation back home.”

Oksentiuk was an officer in the National Guard and was drafted into the service after Russia entered Ukraine territory in early 2014. The conflict is four years old now and according to the United Nations, around 7,000 soldiers have died and more than 3,000 civilians.

Oksentiuk badly injured his left leg fighting in the Donbass region (Donetsk and Luhansk) of eastern Ukraine, where most of the fighting has occurred.

Sport was part of his rehabilitation.

“As you may be aware Ukraine has lost around 10,000 people in the war so obviously we have a lot of wounded soldiers, who require much rehabilitation,” he said.

Ukraine also has a rule that a soldier who has participated once in an Invictus Games cannot participate again. It sounds bad but that allows more soldiers to come through and get involved in the sports as part of their recovery.

“Every Games you will see you more new faces, which means many more are being motivated to get into their rehabilitation and work hard to get better.

“But, at the moment, we only have a team of 15. I am one of only three swimmers.

“Certainly, we’d like to increase that at the next Games.”

The Ukraine team may be small in number, but is being supported by a group of family and friends who made the long trip Down Under.

Their numbers and volume increased when local Sydneysider Markian Stefanchy – who proudly boasts Ukrainian heritage – linked up with them at the cycling.

He went along to have a look, saw the Ukrainian flag waving and introduced himself. He is now the honorary tour guide and cheerleader.

Back to Oksentiuk and the question has to be asked how someone in Ukraine, where the winter temperature average is zero degrees, adopts swimming as his chosen sport?

“The perception of Ukraine many people have as full or snow and cold is not right. It can also get very hot in Ukraine – up to 40 degrees in summer but maybe not often.

“In winter it is obviously cold. But my parents brought me to a swimming pool, when I was five.

“I loved the water and I still do.”

Oksentiuk must find new employment when he returns home.

“My contract with the army has been fulfilled. I am now looking for other avenues for a job like the police, navy or coast guard.”

He said his time in Sydney had given him a deeper appreciation of the outside world, as well as his homeland.

“Ukraine is beautiful in its own way, like Australia has its special things.

“I was born in an area with plenty of lakes.

What I love about Australia is that the people are very friendly and smiling. Ukrainians take things a lot more seriously.

“But I enjoy learning all the new things that are here.”

Margie McDonald
Invictus Games Sydney 2018