Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“It was sport that helped me most in my rehabilitation”

Oleksandr Tkachenko (Chernihiv), silver medal winner at the Invictus Games, shares about his personal challenge to himself, the support he felt in Toronto, and Prince Harry
12 October, 2017 - 12:14
Photo courtesy of the press center of the Chernihiv Oblast Main Police Directorate

Only recently did he return from Toronto, which hosted this year’s international Invictus Games, a sports event for active servicemen and veterans. Upon his return Senior Sergeant Oleksandr Tkachenko from National Police has received a high award, the Order of Merit Third Class, from the hands of the President of Ukraine; has given several interviews, and applied for a vacation. His commanding officer was quite understanding: the selection process and training for the Invictus Games were very demanding, the competition rather exhausting, but the result was worth it. Tkachenko came home with a silver medal which he gained in the 400-meter race.

At a meeting with journalists Senior Sergeant Tkachenko told about his path to the podium. Tkachenko has not yet turned 30, but he has several times been to the east of Ukraine, where he served in a law-enforcement team from Chernihiv oblast. He was gravely wounded near Debaltseve. “Near the village of Chornukhyne, when we were being encircled, fighting was very intensive, we were being shelled by Grads and mortars,” reminisces my interlocutor. “One of the mines fell behind me and my partner, literally three meters behind us. Later we were told that we were lucky it had hit dirt and not asphalt. I caught two fragments. One slashed my neck, the other dropped from above on my head.”

Doctors expected that Tkachenko would need at least a year to rehabilitate. However, after two months he was already jogging, and then he ventured to apply for the Invictus Games. Curiously enough, he had never done any sport before. He says he had no opportunity in his tiny home town of Semenivka, where they did not have any track and field club. However, back at school he even managed to win school races. Thanks to the Invictus Games he began to train more seriously, use the stopwatch, consult coaches. “I reckon it was sport that helped me most in my rehabilitation,” confessed the winner to the journalists. “It is psychologically very important to a warrior, ATO veteran not to just be a couch potato, but put on gym shoes and go for a run.”

Tkachenko tells that the selection to the Games was not easy. Tests were held in various regions, and the final events in the capital. Tkachenko decided to run a 100-and 400-meter races. His results were not bad at all. Finally, only 15 out of 300 applicants were selected, and our man from Chernihiv was among them. They represented Ukraine in such events as track and field, powerlifting, swimming, archery, indoor rowing, and cycling. After the selection, Tkachenko returned home and continued to train, mostly on his own. He went running after work. In the evening he was most likely to be found at the Gagarin Stadium or in a park not far from his home.

The flight across the ocean, a visit to Toronto, and talking to other veterans from other countries caused a storm of emotions and left a lot of impressions. This was his first trip abroad, his first flight, and he represented Ukraine in an international event also for the first time. “Toronto is a huge city, a true megalopolis, and the climate and nature are somewhat similar to ours,” shares Tkachenko. “Yet when we landed, it was boiling hot, the sun was scorching. I thought the sun there was special, you had better not venture out without sunglasses. Personally for me the biggest challenge was jet lag, due to the eight-hour difference between time zones.”

Notwithstanding all the difficulties, my fellow countryman got his act together and showed a great result. The entire Ukrainian team won 14 medals in total and became second. Our war veterans proved that they are true warriors and true winners, unbreakable and strong-willed.

By the by, anyone who would might easily talk to Prince Harry of Wales, the founder of the Invictus Games. “He is quite easy, he came up to us and said hi to everyone, we did not see any bodyguards around. However, he would not let anyone make a selfie with him. You only could take a picture when he himself came up to you. This is his rule.”

Also the Ukrainian team was present at a meeting with our President and Canada’s Prime Minister, organized by the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada. “Everyone wished us success,” summarizes Tkachenko. He hopes to take part in the Games in a couple of years again: the organizers demand that the teams rotate each year. After his vacation, the winner from Chernihiv will start training seriously for the events, which are now scheduled in Australia. This is his new dream, a new step up, and a new challenge.

Вікторія СИДОРОВА, Чернігів