Taira’s spirit: Ukrainian Invictus Games alumna reunites with competitors down under.
“I live each day as if it were my last.” These are the powerful words of Yuliia “Taira” Paievska, a military medic and Team Ukraine Invictus Games Dusseldorf 2023 competitor who shared her story last week at the Sydney Opera House.
Taira’s inspiring story is one of perseverance and true strength. As an army medic, Taira has helped thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians in exceptionally dangerous conditions. She famously helped to draw the world’s attention to the siege of Mariupol by recording more than 256 gigabytes of bodycam footage that was smuggled out of Ukraine by Associated Press journalists. Captured by Russian forces just before the 2022 Invictus Games in The Hague, where she was set to compete, Taira endured three months of captivity. Her release, announced by President Zelenskyy as part of a prisoner exchange, marked the beginning of a new chapter. In September this year, she proudly represented Team Ukraine at the Invictus Games Dusseldorf 2023. Her journey, captured in the Netflix documentary “Heart of Invictus,” serves as a testament to the unyielding spirit of military personnel around the world.
Earlier this week, Invictus Australia had the honour of welcoming Taira to the country, on the steps of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Waiting for her arrival were Assistant Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite MP, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenk and Invictus Australia CEO Michael Hartung, who were delighted to welcome such an inspirational individual to the country.
In perhaps the most heartwarming moment, Taira was reunited with fellow Invictus Games competitors from Team Australia – Daniel King, Laura Reynell, Andrew Tebbit along with his wife Angela and service dog Benji, and Co-Captain Flight Sergeant Nathan King.
Despite the time that had passed, and the kilometres that separate them, these emotional reunions were a perfect embodiment of the profound impact that sport, military connection and the Invictus movement can have on the rehabilitation and recovery of veterans and their families. The competitors showcased the mateship of the Invictus community in a touching moment where Taira was given the Team Australia shirt off the back of Daniel, a Team Australia member.
Invictus helped me out of the ashes after all the torture I went through in captivity. (Before), I was totally devastated, ruined and felt like I had no future.”
During the event’s Q+A session, Taira reflected on what participating in the Dusseldorf 2023 Invictus Games meant to her and how the Invictus movement and power of sport played a pivotal role in her mental and physical recovery. At the forefront, was the friendship, support and comradery she found from being part of the Invictus Games and how it positively impacted her life post capture.
Her inspirational responses captivated guests, who were honoured to be part of the event and gain a glimpse into Taira’s life and ongoing journey beyond the Games.
“It is sinking in now that the Invictus Games have finished but to have a competitor (Taira) coming, talking to her about her experience past the Games is great… She’s such an inspiration.”
Acting as co-hosts and in attendance were Invictus Australia’s Premier Partners, NEC Australia and IPAR, who continue their commitment to supporting veterans mental and physical wellbeing through the power of sport.
During events like these, we are reminded of the transformative power of sport, the enduring spirit of those who have served and the deep connections that run through allied military around the world. . For those eager to delve deeper into Taira’s remarkable story and experience the Invictus spirit firsthand, the “Heart of Invictus” Documentary can be streamed on Netflix.
About Invictus Australia: Invictus Australia encourages veterans and their families to connect and engage with their communities through sport. Whether participating or volunteering at grassroots level, to competing internationally at an Invictus or Warrior Games, Invictus Australia leverages the power of sport to proactively foster good health and aid in recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Invictus Australia promotes the physical, social and emotional benefits of sport for all, and shine a light on the unique needs of younger veterans, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning from military to civilian life.