Ukraine’s Oksana Kozyna was a picture of concentration on the eve of the HULIC DAIHATSU BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022, but it wasn’t only for her game the following day.
She was trying to master the #ShuttleBalanceChallenge made viral on social media over the past few weeks.
Kozyna, who competes in the women’s SL3 category, is one of three Ukrainian Para badminton players on show at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Her country has been in the news due to the ongoing war, which forced Kozyna and her colleagues to find refuge in France, in the northern town of Lille.
“At the moment our Para badminton team is based in France,” Kozyna says. “I do want to go back to Ukraine but it depends on the situation there.”
Her teammate Oleksandr Chyrkov, taking part in the men’s SL3 class, made a strong impression with a victory over three games in his opening singles match. He returned to the familiar surroundings of Tokyo where he participated in the Paralympics, albeit under very different circumstances.
“I was playing on the same court as I was last year during the Paralympics,” Chyrkov said.
“We came to France in May this year. The situation is a bit better now back home but we don’t have the resources there to to train.”
The pair, along with Nina Kozlova competing in the women’s SH6 events, are in Tokyo with coach Zozulia Dmytro, and have found support from the French Parabadminton team as well as the Ukrainian community living there over the past five months.
“They were worried about us because we didn’t have much when we came over here, money, gas, food,” Kozyna said.
“When you come to France, it is difficult because you don’t know the language, you cannot do work and it is not easy.
“But the people have helped us. The Ukrainian people who have been living in France for a long time have given us a lot of kindness and support.”
For Chyrkov, these World Championships mean a whole lot more than the thrill of the competition.
“These World Championships are very important for all Ukrainians because we have a lot of workers and staff who have been commissioned by the military,” Chyrkov said.
“They are out there, so we can be here.”
Kozyna echoes those sentiments.
“I’m here because this is what I’m meant to do (play badminton). Even though there is a war on in Ukraine, I have God with me.”
The challenges of living and training away from home notwithstanding, both Kozyna and Chyrkov are determined to prosper in Tokyo.
“I would like to get the gold medal,” Kozyna said, not mincing any words.