Prince Harry 'Inspired' Ukrainian Medic to Keep Fighting After She Was Held Captive by Russian Forces

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Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex is seen on stage during the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Closing Ceremony at Zuiderpark on April 22, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex is seen on stage during the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Closing Ceremony at Zuiderpark on April 22, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Chris Jackson/Getty Prince Harry

Prince Harry's phone call to a Ukrainian member of the Invictus Games community has "inspired" her to "continue to fight" after an unimaginable ordeal.

Yulia Paievska, who was slated to compete in the Duke of Sussex's Invictus Games as part of Team Ukraine, was serving as a volunteer paramedic when she was captured by Russian forces in March. She was held and tortured for three months before she was released as part of a prisoner exchange.

A week after her release, Paievska received a call from Prince Harry.

"He simply inspired me to continue to fight," she told The Telegraph.

"He said that he supports Ukraine and all of us," Paievska, 53, said, adding, "the Invictus Games family always takes care of its members."

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Yulia Paievska of Invictus Games Team Ukraine attends an open training session at Svoi Arena Sports&Events, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.
Yulia Paievska of Invictus Games Team Ukraine attends an open training session at Svoi Arena Sports&Events, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.

Pavlo_Bagmut/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Yulia Paievska (right)

Paievska described her imprisonment, telling the outlet she was put in solitary confinement and given just half a glass of water each day. She was later moved to a small cell containing more than 20 women, where she experienced "beatings and torture with electricity."

Russians also told the prisoners that "everyone had long forgotten about Ukraine" and it would be "best to commit suicide because they would kill me anyway," Paievska said.

"I had no reason to think that I would get out because they were determined to shoot me, kill me," she said. "But for some reason I knew, I believed that I would survive."

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex meets with the Wheelchair Basketball Team Ukraine during day six of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 21, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex meets with the Wheelchair Basketball Team Ukraine during day six of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 21, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Chris Jackson/Getty Prince Harry with Team Ukraine

Ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Paievska was training to compete at the Invictus Games in swimming, archery and powerlifting. Instead, her 19-year-old daughter, Anna-Sofia Puzanova, competed in her place in archery and took third place.

"I am very grateful to Prince Harry because it was after... the Invictus Games that the Russians stopped interrogating and torturing me," she said. "I think that spreading the word to the whole world influenced their decision to trade me in a prisoner exchange."

Anna-Sofia Puzanova during the Invictus Games at Zuiderpark the Hague, Netherlands.
Anna-Sofia Puzanova during the Invictus Games at Zuiderpark the Hague, Netherlands.

Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Yulia Paievska's daughter, Anna-Sofia Puzanova

Ukrainian athletes competed in the sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans in April despite the war raging in their country.

"I think what people need to remember, or perhaps don't even know yet, is the vast majority of the Ukrainian team was serving in some shape or form," the Duke of Sussex, 37, told BBC News during the competition. "They removed their uniforms, put their team strips on, jumped on the coach and came over here, slept for a couple of days, tried to decompress, and then were straight into it."

"Then they've got to go back," Harry added. "So, I think, to have them here is extraordinary."

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy connected with the competitors via video call during the event. "Members of the team include current service members who are defending Ukraine," he said, according to Ukraine's Facebook page. "To win every day and everywhere is important for us today. We are proud that, at this time, you represent our country. You are showing the rebellious spirit of the Ukrainian people. Support you. Victory to you!"

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex meets with the Wheelchair Basketball Team Ukraine during day six of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 21, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex meets with the Wheelchair Basketball Team Ukraine during day six of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 21, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Chris Jackson/Getty Prince Harry with Team Ukraine

Paievska wants to return to the front line "to be as useful to my country as much as possible," she said, but first has to recover from her ordeal, which included losing 22 lbs. She is training in sports and hopes to compete in the Invictus Games.

"I still get tired very quickly and sometimes break down," she told The Telegraph. "I think the motivation to get to the Invictus Games next year will pull me together finally."

Despite admitting that she is afraid to return to combat, she said, There are more important things than our fear and our emotions."