Ukrainian Para Swimmers Stranded in Turkey

This week, CNN released a video report about a team of Ukrainian swimmers with disabilities who, along with their three coaches, have been stranded in Turkey since February. The team, which is based in Zaporizhia, traveled to Istanbul for a two week training trip the week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unable to get home, they’ve now been there for two months. 

There were seven swimmers on the trip. The mom of the youngest swimmer on the trip (8) was able to leave Ukraine, meet her son in Turkey, and take him to Poland. 

The six remaining swimmers continue to train at a public pool and are trying to keep in touch with their families as best they can. One of the coaches, Irina Pavelyeva, is a single parent whose daughter is currently staying with her grandparents. The other two coaches on the trip are Illia Kalashnik and Natalia Samorodina. The team told the CNN reporter that “this ordeal has turned their team into a family.”  

One of the swimmers still in Istanbul is Kyrylo Garashchenko, who won the silver medal in the 400 free S13 event at the Tokyo Olympics. He also swam on Ukraine’s mixed 4×100 free 49pts relay, where they won bronze. At 24, he’s the oldest of the athletes. The rest range from twelve to seventeen years old. 

Because they only planned for a two-week trip, they have long since run out of money. They’ve been living at one of the sports clubs in the city, who are letting them stay and eat for free. For other essentials, they’ve been relying on charity, particularly from the Ukrainian community already in Turkey. Currently, they have no idea when they will be able to return home. 

Ukraine has one of the most successful Para teams in the world, supported by an infrastructure that dates back to 1991, when they became independent from Russia. At the Tokyo Paralympics, they won 43 medals in swimming. They top the all-time medal table at the World Para Swimming European Championships (formerly known as the IPC Swimming European Championships) with 569 medals, over two hundred medals ahead of second-place Great Britain. 

Much of Ukraine’s swimming infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed during the war with Russia, including a planned Paralympic training base in Mariupol [LINK].

A gofundme page has been started to help support their expenses.

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