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“You can’t give up on people with disabilities” — a Paralympian who evacuated from Kharkiv to Lviv

39-year-old Roman Bondarenko comes from Kharkiv. He has been swimming for 13 years and is a member of the Ukrainian Paralympic team.

Roman is a multiple silver and bronze medalist of the championships of Ukraine. Currently, the man lives in Lviv, in a hostel, but he continues to prepare for the Paralympic Games with coach Anton Gromov.

The story of Roman Bondarenko is told at the City Center for Support of Internally Displaced Persons. The man came to Lviv in mid-March 2022.

“The beginning of a full-scale invasion did not find me in Kharkiv. We were at the meeting, because we are constantly at the meeting, then we were in the city of Kamianske, this is the Dnipropetrovsk region. From there, we traveled by car, in a caravan of 5 cars: parents, children with disabilities – all in cars, and it took us about a week to get to Lviv,” the athlete recalls.

From Lviv, the coach sent Roman and his family to Poland. They stayed there for half a year. Meanwhile, the coach himself volunteered in Lviv and helped other athletes.

Swimmer Roman Bondarenko began his professional career in 2012. Then, in the Crimea at the Paralympic base in Yevpatoria, he met his coach and they have been working together ever since. Roman participated in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Now he is preparing for two competitions: the European Championship and the Paralympic Games in Paris.

“We go to train either in Kamianske, or abroad – where the competitions will be held. The country for training and competition is selected so that we can adapt. We get up at 5 in the morning, at 6 our first training begins. Then we rest, at 2:30 p.m. there is a second workout, and the third is in the gym, and so on four times a week. There are two training sessions on Wednesday and Saturday, and Sunday is a day off,” says the Paralympian.

In his free time, the athlete engages in self-development, rests, watches movies, and also goes for a walk with the coach, because he trusts him the most.

Honored coach of Ukraine Anton Gromov is also from Kharkiv. He is 43 years old. He started working with children with disabilities 15 years ago. Now they are adult athletes who are part of the Paralympic team.

“Working with athletes with disabilities has its own peculiarities. Each athlete has his own diagnosis, degree of damage. During the training process, these subtleties must be taken into account: training time, adjusting the load on different muscle groups. When I started working with them, when I saw how they strive for victory, I realized that this is not a disabled person. A disabled person is someone who sits at home and feels sorry for himself,” says the coach.

The coach is convinced that the athletes of the Ukrainian national team are unique, because they understand the importance of their actions like no other and confidently go to the goal.

“Look, when I broke my spine, I, too, was putting out yesterday, and today I’m lying down and my eyes are blinking, everything below my neck was paralyzed. Emotionally, it is very difficult and many people give up and think that he is the only one with a disability in the whole world. You can’t do that, you have to adapt to the “new self”. The number of people with disabilities is increasing, but we must not forget that many types of sports are available to us,” says Roman Bondarenko.

Roman Bondarenko and Maryan Kvasnytsia, the coach and athletes of the Paralympic national team, say that in this critical period it is important not to be alone with your problems. Sometimes you need another person for support and encouragement.

“For each of us, support is important, and not necessarily from relatives, but only someone who will say that a real loser is someone who is afraid of losing, but does not try to win. We are the owners of our lives, so get up and shine!”, concludes coach Anton Gromov.

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