Ukrainian individuals who have had limbs amputated have discovered a sense of liberation through the practice of jiujitsu.
KYIV, Ukraine —
Feeling anxious before their debut jiujitsu competition, the military veterans gathered together to tell jokes and assist one another in tying their kimono belts. Several of them had endured serious injuries on the battlefield that resulted in amputations.
They gathered together to compete in the “parajiujitsu” division at the national Ukrainian competition, in front of a large audience seated on amphitheater-style benches at a sports complex in Kyiv.
Over 20,000 individuals in Ukraine have suffered amputations due to injury during Russia’s violent conflict, with a significant portion being military personnel. Some of these individuals have found solace in coping with their mental anguish through the practice of Brazilian jiujitsu.
Artem Kuzmich, who began attending jiujitsu classes after losing a leg in battle in 2019, expressed that it has given him a sense of freedom and fulfillment.
Kuzmich, originally from Belarus, made the choice to join the Ukrainian military in 2014 to combat Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. Currently, he serves as a mentor to soldiers who have recently experienced similar injuries, using jiujitsu as a means of healing and finding solace.
Jiujitsu utilizes techniques and grips that utilize an opponent’s strength against them.
According to Kuzmich, this activity can be easily modified for individuals who have undergone amputations, without requiring the use of prosthetics.
He stated that we utilize what we possess and can attain success with the resources that life has given us.
The competition began on a recent weekend with the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem, expressions of thanks to the country’s defenders, and a moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives in battle.
Five of the six athletes in the “parajiujitsu” division started their training at the TMS Hub in Kyiv, a secure location that provides psychological rehabilitation for veterans. They recently launched their first jiujitsu training space two months back.
TMS Hub provides complimentary training in jiujitsu, primarily to veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict who have endured limb loss as a result of combat. The focus of the program is to create a supportive community for these individuals and aid in their psychological recovery.
According to Serhii Pohosyan, co-founder of TMS Hub, being in the company of their peers is more comfortable for them.
After only two months of training, five veterans from the TMS Hub gym were prepared to compete in the national competition.
Vasyl Oksyntiuk, 26, is among those who were affected by the heavy fighting in Bakhmut last December. As a result of a shell hitting his car, he lost both of his legs.
Prior to his bout, he deliberately detached his prosthetic limbs and placed them outside the designated competition zone. He sported a kimono, cropped hair, and a dark mustache. With an unwavering stare, he leaned on his arms while approaching the center of the mat to face his adversary.
According to Oksyntiuk, you experience a significant change in your feelings and forget about any feelings of lacking.
He bravely offered himself to fight in February when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine. He expressed, “It is both in the Constitution and in our hearts to defend our loved ones, our family, and our homeland. When the adversaries appeared, action had to be taken.”
Almost 12 months after his injury, he has mastered the skill of walking confidently on his prosthetic limbs. However, he continues to search for novel ways to occupy his leisure hours.
“I had always desired to explore martial arts, but I believed I was too advanced in age,” Oksyntiuk expressed. “However, after losing my legs and stumbling upon an online opportunity, I decided to take a chance. To my delight, I found great enjoyment in it.”
During his initial participation in the Ukrainian Jiujitsu Championship, Oksyntiuk achieved second place and was awarded a silver medal in the “parajiujitsu” division.
Pohosyan, one of the co-founders of TMS Hub, mentioned that the gym has dedicated bathrooms and amenities to cater to the needs of disabled veterans. He also shared that approximately 20 veterans regularly participate in the gym’s jiujitsu sessions, and they aim to expand their program by establishing more gyms outside of the capital. However, this plan is contingent on funding as the project is currently reliant on donations.
Following the distribution of medals at the tournament, the ex-soldiers, filled with intense feelings, approached Pohosyan to express their appreciation and state that the experience was precisely what they required.
Pohosyan expressed that this was the best reward for us.