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While war continues to rage in their homeland, Ukrainian biathletes winning on the slopes of Prince George

Liudmyla Liashenko and Taras Rad dominated Para Biathlon World Championships medal podium at Otway Nordic Centre

Ukrainians Liudmyla Liashenko and Taras Rad have fists full of reasons why they like racing biathlon in Prince George.

And why wouldn’t they? In two world championships contested on the slopes of Otway Nordic Centre they’ve won medals in every race they’ve entered, dating back to 2019 at the World Para Nordic World Championships.

Rad swept the medal podium in the three male sit-skier biathlon events five years ago while Liashenko was equally dominant competing in the women’s standing class. They also medaled in all three cross country events and went back to the Ukraine with six medals.

Fast forward to last week’s Para Biathlon World Championships at the same venue just west of the city and the winning continued for the two Ukrainian stars.

Liashenko, 30, reeled off wins in the 7.5 km and 12.5 km races and teamed up with Bohdana Konashuk for gold in the team sprint, also winning silver in the sprint pursuit.

“Right now, every victory for Ukraine is super-important for Ukraine as a country,” said Liashenko, speaking through an interpreter. “We are on the sport frontline, same as our soldiers protecting our country on the frontline in the war.

“We’re not any younger, but in spite of that we achieved results that were not worse than 2019.”

Liashenko is from Kharkiv, close to the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, and the country’s second-largest city has been hard-hit by the war. Many of its public buildings, schools, hospitals and apartment buildings have been destroyed.

“The war is going on and it’s very hard for us because our friends and relatives are there are in cities that are being shelled very hard and they are under threat all the time,” Liashenko said. “My city, Kharkiv, even (Monday) night was shelled by rockets. My building suffered a second time from Russian rockets.

“Between our training I came back home and had to train in such circumstances because I had to compete in international competitions. I had to do my job.”

After four days of competition the 23 Ukrainians in Prince George topped the Para Biathlon medal standings with 20 medals – eight gold, seven silver and five bronze.

That’s remarkable considering their national training centre in Chernikiv has been virtually destroyed by the Russians in the two-year-old war. Not only that, there has been no snow for them to train in their home country this winter. They’ve been practicing at an alternate winter sports base near Lviv, which also serves as a rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers.

At the Para Biathlon championships, the 24-year-old Rad claimed gold in the 12.5-kilometre and sprint pursuit and bagged silver in the 7.5 km sprint and shared silver with Vasyl Kravchuk.

“We knew it would be hard and we like that we managed to win and we’re happy,” said Rad. “It’s a huge achievement. What we were preparing for we have achieved.”

Rad won gold again this morning at the Para Nordic World Cup Finals at Otway, and cleaned his targets while winning the biathlon 10 km middle distance event ahead of Zixa Liu of China. Kravchuk took bronze,

Rad, a native of Ternopil in western Ukraine, had his leg amputated below the knee at age 12 when he suffered a muscle injury that was mistreated by a doctor at the hospital and became infected. The former soccer player was introduced to sit-skiing and biathlon by a youth para sports organization in his home country. Most of his training this season has been in the gym.

Liashenko, who was born missing the two fingers in each of her hands, started ski racing at age 18. This season, with snow so scarce, she’s focused on running and roller skiing. Aside from a training camp in Finland and consecutive World Cup racing events in Italy in late-January-early-February the Ukrainian team has had to improvise to maintain the level of fitness it takes to be a world champion.

The Otway trails are in near-perfect condition, with a thick layer of natural snow having fallen just before the two weeks of competition in Prince George on top of a foot-deep covering of artificial snow was a blessing.

“There are lot of ski trails here and the trails are excellent,” said Rad. “It’s a good place to train.”

Biathlon is a huge spectator sport in Europe and Rad and Liashenko are familiar faces to thousands of fans who look up to them as superstars of their sport. Rad was a triple-silver medalist at his first Paralympics in PyeongChang and won gold and silver in 2022 in Beijing.

 Liashenko also won Paralympic gold and silver in 2022, after reeling in two bronze medals in 2018.

Prince George is home to 239 Ukrainian refugees from more than 80 families who have resettled in the city since the war began in February 2022 and they’ve made the presence felt at the races, waving the Ukrainian flag as spectators and volunteers.

“It’s very pleasing for us to meet Ukrainians here,” said Liashenko. “It was super unexpected when we were met in the airport by the local people. It was warm and hospitable.”

Interpreter Olexii Miroshynk came to Prince George with his wife and three daughters in June 2022 and Rad pointed out how they were lucky to him help conduct the interview with reporters.

“If you were not here we would not have the opportunity to be interpreted,” said Rad.

Today marks the start of the Para World Cup Finals. It starts with 10-km biathlon event, followed by three cross-country races, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.