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(BBC SPORT) Ukraine topped the medal table with three golds on the first day of the Winter Paralympics in Beijing.
Biathlete Grygorii Vovchynskyi triumphed in the men’s sprint standing event to win Ukraine’s first gold at these Games. Oksana Shyshkova then won the women’s sprint vision impaired, before Vitaliy Lukianenko led a Ukrainian one-two-three in the men’s event.
Ukrainian athletes claimed seven medals in total on the opening day. There are 20 Ukrainian athletes and nine guides in Beijing. The delegation travelled to China despite the Russian invasion of their country, which began on 24 February. “It was difficult for me when the war began. I cried every day,” Vovchynskyi said. “I didn’t understand what happened.
“What can I do? I can dedicate this race to Ukraine, for peace [for the] people in Ukraine. “Please stop war, it’s very important for our children.”
Vovchynskyi, who won gold in the long distance event in Sochi in 2014, beat Germany’s Marco Maier by 45.8 seconds to win his event. He said: “I was thinking before the race, I must try to do everything for Ukraine. I must think about war, about my country, about my people, about my president. I love Ukraine. “I love sport, but today I ran because I want life in Ukraine to move to the future.”
Shyshkova held off Germany’s Linn Kazmaier to claim Ukraine’s second gold. Lukianenko added a third in the men’s sprint vision impaired event, with compatriots Oleksandr Kazik and Dmytro Suiarko claiming silver and bronze respectively. There were also silvers for Liudmyla Liashenko and Taras Rad.
Liashenko, 28, won her fifth Games medal in the women’s sprint standing where China’s Guo Yujie, 17, emerged victorious. It was a second Paralympic medal for Rad, 23, following his middle distance gold from Pyeongchang, after he finished 17.5secs adrift of China’s Liu Zixu in the men’s sprint seated event.
Before the Games, Valeriy Sushkevych, the Ukrainian Paralympic chief, said his team’s presence at the Games was a “symbol that Ukraine is alive” and that it was a “miracle” they made it to the competition. They were warmly welcomed into the Bird’s Nest Stadium for Friday’s opening ceremony. The Russian Paralympic Committee and Belarus were banned from competing.