Article by: Alina Shvydko
Oksana Masters: “My heart is with Ukraine and the people who protect their country!”
Oksana Masters (born Oksana Bondarchuk), triple Paralympic Games medalist, American athlete of Ukrainian origin visited the Kyiv Military Hospital. A native of Khmelnytsky, Oksana was born with malformations caused by the Chornobyl disaster; she eventually had to have both legs amputated. Oksana’s parents abandoned her and she grew up in an orphanage. When she was seven, Oksana was adopted by an American lady, Gay Masters. In the U.S., Oksana became involved in sports and won medals at two Paralympics – rowing in the summer competition and downhill skiing in winter. She visited Ukraine for the first time in 20 years and spoke of her support for ATO veterans who have also lost their limbs in the war. She also visited a Kyiv orphanage with her mother.
– I don’t know very much about where I’m from. When I arrived in Ukraine, I realized how beautiful it was. When I left Ukraine, I was very young and don’t remember much; my memories have faded…
I remember when we left Ukraine and were travelling through Poland, I think. I had to pee, so the driver went to the side of the road and said – “Hurry up!” There I was, in the middle of the road, in the snow… I had to do it, but my mother and her sister, who had come over to help with the adoption, held me by the arms.
When I arrived in the United States, I was surprised to see all the toys that were waiting for me. Everything was bright, big and new, and I wanted to touch everything. I was obsessed with the light switches. I played with them all the time as they are very different from switches in Ukraine.
Growing up in an orphanage, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn about Ukrainian culture; I couldn’t travel and get to know the country. So, I really can’t compare the United States and the U.S.
I’ve always been a curious child. I kept pushing myself to try new things. What really made me move forward was when people told me that I’d never make it. So, I really wanted to prove to everyone that I could do anything I put my mind to. I was also very active; I wanted to do something and not just stand on the sidelines. Sports mean the world to me. My mother opened the world of sports to me, and it’s made me very happy. I really want to travel and learn about other cultures. I can do this through sports.
I’ve always been very curious about Ukraine, especially when I reached sixteen. When I was young, I wanted to build a new life, to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to be different. When I was 16-17, I started thinking about my homeland and asked my mother a lot of questions. She remembers Ukraine and the times she visited me. It means a lot to me… where I come from because it will affect and shape who we ultimately become.
My mother and I visited an orphanage where the kids were all under the age of five. I was very surprised and pleased that the children could talk one-on-one with their teachers. No one is allowed to interrupt them. They try to build a relationship with the child, and this is very important. The first five years are so important and have a major impact on your future personality. I also noted the brightly painted walls and lots of toys everywhere. It touched me deeply…
It was an honour for me to visit Ukrainian soldiers at the military hospital. I’m glad that I could stay with them for some time and speak to them about living with prostheses. It’s very important to accept the fact that you no longer have limbs. We must get used to our new body. I removed my prostheses to show them that you can live and move around even when you’re not wearing them, that you’re still a normal person and can be active.
I’m so sad that people have to live through war in order to understand who they really are. My heart is with Ukraine and with all the soldiers who protect their country and its people. I hope that everyone will respect them because they deserve it. They look a little different now, but they did it for you.