Para Taekwondo Community unites to help team escape war and continue to compete
Ukraine’s Para Taekwondo team wants to express its gratitude.
After a tumultuous year that saw the team flee an active war zone and adapt to entirely different living conditions and training regimens, the athletes publicly acknowledged the support they received during this life-changing experience.
World Taekwondo President Chungwon Choue was all ears when he met Ukraine’s most successful Para Taekwondoin of all-time, Vika Marchuk, after she was knocked out of the -47 kg Para Grand Prix Finals quarterfinal.
World Taekwondo and several other organisations helped the team get out of Ukraine and compete in five competitions since the war began in February.
“This year was very difficult for our country, and for all our athletes,” said Ukraine’s National Paralympic Committee in a post on social media. “Because of the terrible military actions on the territory of our country, athlete training and participation in international competitions seemed impossible.”
“Despite all the difficulties, the Ukrainian Para Taekwondo team was able to take part in all the important competitions this year, which gave our athletes the opportunity to score points and raise their ranking to become closer to their cherished dream – the Paralympic Games,” the message continued.
Forging a Special Relationship
The relationship between Choue and Marchuk, one of Para Taekwondo’s original stars, goes back a long way. She met him in 2012 – shortly before winning the first of her six world championships.
“My coach told me that President Choue really liked the way I move; that he was delighted with my technique”, she said. “He even asked that my final be postponed so he could watch it.”
The two met again at the 2015 World Para Taekwondo Championships, where she presented him with a hand-stitched flower embroidery – a traditional Ukrainian art form. Given the impairments she suffers to both arms, it took Marchuk weeks to prepare.
“It was really touching. It was the first time I have ever received a gift like that”, Choue said at the time. “How long did it take her to make that?”
The embroidery is on display in his office and stands as a reminder of the dedication people with impairments are able to demonstrate – both in sport and in life.
Choue, in turn, has been deeply dedicated to building Para Taekwondo into one of the fastest growing Para sports in the world.
One year after its Paralympic debut in Tokyo, World Taekwondo introduced Para Taekwondo into its prestige Grand Prix Series and offered Para athletes the opportunity to compete alongside their able-bodied teammates at the European Championships in Manchester in May.
World Taekwondo has aided Ukraine’s Para Taekwondo team after they were forced to flee the conflict in their home country.
Ukraine is among the world’s top Para sports nations; its teams usually enjoy generous government funding. But due to war, Kiev has been forced to redirect funds from all sports federations.
That’s when friends stepped up. For those friends, the first order of business was getting the Ukrainian athletes out of the country.
Marchuk was unable to leave on her first attempt, as her scheduled train never arrived. When she did make it to the border, she was forced to walk over 12 kilometres, due to long lines of fleeing Ukrainians.
A bond forged through Para Taekwondo led to aid for Ukraine’s team.
Marchuk had competed alongside Denmark’s Paralympic champion Lisa Gjessing since the pair both won world championships in 2014. That relationship led to the idea of housing Ukraine’s refugee athletes alongside the Danish national Para Taekwondo team.
Talks between Elite Sports Aarhus – a programme that operates out of the same venue in which Gjessing trains – the Danish Paralympic Committee, and World Taekwondo birthed a special programme to host the team.
End result: Ukraine’s full Para Taekwondo team was welcomed to Denmark.
Others helped, too. WT covered the cost of travel and accommodations for major tournaments. GB Taekwondo and the 2022 European Championship Organising Committee facilitated the team’s participation in the European Championships in Manchester.
The Ukrainian Paralympic Committee publicly thanked the federations yesterday.
“The Paralympic Committee of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Para Taekwondo team would like to express our gratitude to World Taekwondo and its President, Dr. Chungwon Choue, for the incredible help you provided to our team when it was needed,” Ukraine’s NPC wrote on Facebook.
“We are grateful to you….for doing everything possible to help the athletes continue to move forward to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games – just like athletes from other nations – in this difficult time for our country”.
Denmark Stands Up for Ukraine’s Refugee Athletes
Ukraine’s NPC and Para Taekwondo specially thanked those in Denmark who housed the team through 2022.
But Danish Head Coach Bjarne Johanssen pointed out what the Danish team and staff had also benefitted from their experiences with the Ukrainian team.
“We’ve had to explain things in a different way – Northern Europe does things differently than Eastern Europe,” he said. “As persons, as human beings, the humble way they see things has given more meaning to what exactly our job is. You learn to excel with what you have”.
The teams have formed a special bond. No one cheered louder when Gjessing qualified for the Para Grand Prix Finals gold medal match than the Ukrainian athletes.
A Life-Changing Gift
Marchuk extended the gratitude of the Ukrainian team when she met Choue at Riyadh’s Green Hall on December 8, 2022.
“Growing up with no family, no home, Para Taekwondo has allowed me to stand on my feet and go on, to not give up, no matter what,” she said. “I will be forever grateful to Chungwon Choue and my coaches for changing my life!”
It's a sentiment shared by Ukraine’s Para Taekwondo team.
“Thank you once again to everyone who actively helped our Para Taekwondo team this year,” the team said in its statement. “We appreciate all you’ve done and will never forget everything you’ve done for us!”