A Story of Courage | Ukrainian Paralympian Oleksandr Devlysh

By: Tess McLean

“I know that our biggest victory is still ahead.”

Ukraine against Brazil, Intercontinental Cup, Barcelona 2013. Oleksandr on the right. 

I’m a normal person who wants to live in a free European country, to work, to play with my daughter, to hug my wife, visit my parents on weekends, to watch football with friends. But Russians want to destroy my country, to kill our people, to destroy democracy and freedom all over the World. We will not allow this to happen. We will struggle and we will win. Because the truth always overcomes lies, the mind always overcomes stupidity, freedom always overcomes slavery, and kindness always overcomes evil.

I was born five years before my country gained independence, in a small village in the Khmelnytskyi region. My father was a driver, my mother was a bookkeeper, as she is so far. My brother was four years old.

I was less than five years old when I saw tanks in a crowd of people on a black-and-white TV set. These were tanks that defeated strikes in Moscow. My parents were scared, adults talk about the war. From that time on I had a fear of war, of tanks. But soon Ukraine gained independence. These were difficult times. Russia had taken away all economic goods, we become very poor, but we were free.

I was a weak child. I spent much of my childhood in hospitals. Furthermore, I was forbidden to run or jump. My grandmother directed my children’s energy to read and write. So, until I was four, I could read freely and write in block letters. But my elder brother was the typical active boy. He often played football with his friends. They played on a street with a rubber ball. As I mentioned, I was forbidden to run or jump, so I was forbidden to play football also. It was hard for me to stay aside and just look at the other boys playing football. At every first opportunity, I played with the ball. Sometimes my brother allowed me to play football, but only if I promised do not to tell my parents. So, thanks to my brother, football becomes the number one thing in my life. Also, I loved to run. It was like my superpower. But there was one thing – a pain. If I ran much during the day, I writhed from pain in my internal organs in the evening and I could not sleep due to cramps in my legs at night.

When I was a schoolboy, I still was forbidden from physical activity. However, I played sports more and more, secretly from my parents, and felt less and less pain. My brother was always proud and supported me because I was good at football. I dreamed to play in a professional football club. I never considered myself disabled. But once I saw a document in my mother’s hands. There was my photography and inscription like “Disability certificate”. I was furious. I understood that I did not have a chance to become a football player.

When I finished school, I entered a boarding technical school for the disabled. My parents did not have the money to provide me with quality education, so I agreed to study there. I was surprised to find out about the existence of Paralympic sports and about a former student of that technical school, who was a participant in Paralympic games.

After two weeks of my being there, I took part in the championship of Ukraine as a member of the Khmelnytskyi regional Paralympic football team. I didn’t play a second at that tournament, but I got inspiration from being among members of the Ukrainian national Paralympic team. I set a goal to become a member of the national team of Ukraine and become a participant in the Paralympic Games in Athens, in 2004.

I trained hard, but I played only in two games during the next Ukrainian championship. I was exhausted, but I didn’t stop my training. My friends, who were members of the national Paralympic team, invited me to train with the university football team. That was the other level. The Ukrainian Championship 2004 was the last chance for me to show myself. I played all the games, I scored many goals, important goals, and suddenly I was invited to a meeting with the head coach of the national Paralympic team. He invited me to the training meeting. That was unforgivable. I felt that realization of my dream was very close.

But, it was not so easy. I could not withstand the physical exertion at the first training meeting. The second was very difficult too. However, there was my first friendly match, but the last in 2004.

I was angry with myself. I lost my chance. The head coach told me that I am only 17 years old and everything is still ahead for me. Inspired by these words, I trained like never before.

The following season I was much better at physical endurance and technical skills. But I had to focus on college graduation exams and university entrance exams. That’s why I spent only five days at the Sports Training Center of the Paralympic Team of Ukraine.

I got one of the best Christmas presents that year – a contract. So, I became a member of the national team, I became a professional sportsman.

The following year was marked by the first European Championship for me and the first gold medal. I received the title of Master of Sports of International Class. That was a successful season. It seemed that nothing could stop me. The next year, my goal was to become a regular player, not a substitute. But there was fierce competition between players for a place in the team and I lost it. I didn’t get to the World Championship in Brazil. Our team was third at that championship. At that time I had to settle for the fourth place of our university team at the Ukrainian Universiade, which took place in Irpin, which is now almost destroyed by the Russian army.

I understood I couldn’t lose a chance to go to the Paralympic Games 2008. I prepared very actively. I had morning six kilometers running, training with the university team, strength exercises in the evening. The rest of the time I studied.

I got into great physical condition. But all my efforts were in vain. I felt some pain in my neck after training. It was in February. The next morning, I could not move my head, my neck and shoulders. I was treated for the next two months. But it was only worse. I had surgery in April and only then I was able to move fully. The wound on my neck was purulent, it could not be sutured. So, I went to the Sports Training Center of the Paralympic Team of Ukraine with a hole in my neck. I was weaker than others, but I still had a chance to make a dream come true.

That was the greatest tournament I’ve ever been to. It was unbelievable to stay on the highest step of the pedestal after the victory over the Russian team in the final game. I remember, we were exhausted, but we couldn’t sleep that night.

Oleksandr’s Gold Medal, Beijing 2008.
Gold Medal Ukrainian Football Team, Beijing 2008. Oleksandr back row, second from the left.












After that we won European Championship, and Intercontinental Cup, we were third in the World Championship, and silver medal winners in the Paralympic Games in London, in 2012.

2014 was a sad year.
Russia annexed the Crimea. We could not prepare for the European Championship in the Sports Training Center of the Paralympic Team of Ukraine in Evpatoria. But we took a risk and went to Crimea. It was very humiliating when Russian policemen arranged a search for me in my Simferopol, because I had the inscription “UKRAINE” on my tracksuit. Our Training Center was not ours. Drunk Russians everywhere, nothing was repaired, everything was peeled off – that was a face of Russian power. We said goodbye to the Crimea but not forever.

We won the European Championship that year. That was my last tournament, but not the last victory. I know that our biggest victory is still ahead.

Oleksandr Devlysh.

The Ukraine Auction April 9 – 14

This fundraising auction will be offered online April 9 – 14.  Please view the gallery.

Find out more about the opportunity to support Oleksandr in his efforts to raise money for Ukraine.

Special Terms & Conditions apply to this auction.

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