Harry hails ‘extraordinary’ Ukraine team at Invictus Games

·4-min read
The Duke of Sussex has praised Team Ukraine (PA) (PA Wire)
The Duke of Sussex has praised Team Ukraine (PA) (PA Wire)

The Duke of Sussex has said it is “extraordinary” to have a team from Ukraine at The Invictus Games.

Harry said it is “emotional” to think about their journey to The Hague in the Netherlands for the event taking place this week.

The duke, who founded the games to aid the rehabilitation of injured or sick military personnel and veterans, was speaking during an interview which will be broadcast on the BBC on Monday evening.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Invictus Games (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Invictus Games (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

In the clip posted online by the broadcaster, Harry told presenter Alex Jones: “The whole world is definitely behind them. But again, is that enough, you know?

“Because when you get to see them and speak to them, and see in their eyes, the experiences and the things that they’ve seen just in the last few weeks, it’s really hard.”

Team Ukraine is made up of 19 competitors and they have been cheered and applauded by other nations since people started arriving at the Zuiderpark last Friday.

Speaking about their journey to the games, Harry said: “It’s emotional to think that they all jumped in the bus, firstly they have to make the decision to come, which was hard enough anyway, then they jumped on the coach, probably slept all the way.

Ukraine team manager Oksana Horbach (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Ukraine team manager Oksana Horbach (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

“And I think what people need to remember, or perhaps don’t even know yet, is a vast majority of the Ukraine team were serving in some shape or form.

“So they removed their uniforms, put their team strips on, jumped on the coach, came over here, slept for a couple of days, tried to decompress and then were straight into it, and then they’ve got to go back, so I think to have them here is extraordinary.

“And that commitment that they’ve made to leaving their country, which is a real hard thing for them to decide to do, but they came with their president’s blessing.

“And I don’t think this games could have been the games that it is without Team Ukraine.

“And of course, they’ve lost now four members of their community, and one being their archery instructor who isn’t here. He didn’t make it, killed in action.

“So I think it really just brings it home to what is going on across Europe right now.

“And we’ve got over 500 competitors here with varying different stories and backgrounds, but ultimately we are all together in this.”

During the interview, he said the games were about “healing”, adding: “I genuinely after three years thought we might be able to put it in a box, put it on a shelf and just leave it until we would need to bring it out again, but the state of the world right now, there’s always going to be a need for it as far as I can tell.”

Harry said he was “struggling for 24 hours about what to say about Team Ukraine” ahead of the opening ceremony.

In a speech at the event on Saturday, Harry said: “Your bravery in choosing to come and for being here tonight cannot be overstated.

“You told me yesterday when you decided to join us despite all odds, you said you came to be on this global stage, not simply to show your strength but to tell your truth, the truth, of what is happening in your country.

“You know we stand with you. The world is united with you and still you deserve more.

“And my hope is that these events, this event, creates the opportunity in how we as a global community can better show up for you.”

Meghan also appeared on stage and said to huge applause: “Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine).

Anna-Sofia Puzanova (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Anna-Sofia Puzanova (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Attending the games is the teenage daughter of a Ukrainian paramedic who has been captured by Russian soldiers.

Yuliia Paievska, also known as Taira, was due to compete as part of the Ukrainian team but she was taken prisoner four weeks ago.

The 52-year-old is said to be a well-known paramedic, and is the founder and leader of Taira’s Angels, a volunteer medical evacuation unit that rescues the wounded, both military and civilians.

In Mariupol, Taira’s Angels rescued wounded soldiers and provided support to local people.

Her daughter, Anna-Sofia Puzanova, who turned 19 on Monday, travelled to The Hague for the event.

Ms Puzanova told the PA news agency: “My mum was captured by Russian soldiers near Mariupol on March 16, one month ago already.

“And now she’s probably in Russia. To be honest I don’t know exactly where she is because we don’t have any contact with her.”

Asked what she would say to her mother’s captors, she said: “Bring back my mum to me.”

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