A people’s heroine
at the Invictus Games

“That’s what Invictus means – invincible”: For Yuliia “Taira” Paievska, a dream will come true at the Invictus Games 2023.

“The goal in mind. Breathe. No panic. Concentration. Hit!”, thought Yuliia Paievska, known as “Taira”, as she stretched her bow between her fingers during training for the Invictus Games 2022 in The Hague. Everything was ready, but then she was unable to take part. As a medic at a Ukrainian military hospital, she was taken prisoner by Russia. Now we welcome this indomitable woman to the INVICTUS GAMES DÜSSELDORF 2023 presented by Boeing.

Yuliia Paievska

She was included in the BBC’s 100 Women of 2022, the same year US Time magazine nominated her as Person of the Year. A year later she received the International Women of Courage Award (IWOC). As the representative of the Ukrainian people at the awarding of the Sakharov Prize for intellectual freedom to the Ukrainian people, Yuliia “Taira” Paievska is now facing her own strength by taking part in the Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023: “Despite all my traumas and my heart attacks, I need Invictus to find myself again.”

“When we first met, I didn’t recognise you at all. Only when I heard her voice did I realise: that’s my mother!” explains daughter Anna-Sofia in the Netflix documentary. Taira was in captivity for twelve weeks. Her status as a participant in the 2022 Invictus Games and the international attention that came with it probably spared her from worse ordeals. “Thanks to Invictus, my story became known,” says Taira.

The captivity has not broken her, her message is a testament to unbroken positive strength: “All those who have survived captivity, all those who have suffered injuries, are able to draw strength from this experience instead of letting it get them down. That’s what Invictus means – invincible.” In Düsseldorf, Yuliia Paievska can finally reflect on herself – on the disciplines she has already prepared for in 2022 – archery, powerlifting and swimming. Finally it means: the goal is in sight. Breathe. No panic. Concentration. Full power.

Yuliia can be seen in competition on Sunday morning in powerlifting and on Friday in archery in the Open Compound. Admission is free. In between, she swims three races during the week – the 50-metre breaststroke and freestyle as well as the 4×50-metre freestyle relay.

The Netflix documentary “Heart of Invictus” shows what makes her story so unique and admirable. The volunteer medic and former soldier has been working in a military hospital in Mariupol since 2014, where she gave hundreds of wounded people a new life every day. Her motivation: “The idea of freedom has always been very important to me. Protecting our homeland, preserving our dignity and being truthful – these principles guide me through life. More than anything else.” Taira always captured the moments of her everyday life in the Ukrainian war zone with her camera. There are scenes of doctors trying to save people in extremely difficult conditions, deafening sirens, tears and painful screams. Taira managed to leak the footage to journalists the day before her sudden capture and disappearance without a trace.

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In Taira’s place, her 19-year-old daughter Anna-Sofia Puzanova competed at the Invictus Games 2022. Her tireless desire to educate the world about her mother’s situation and at the same time fill it with pride was what drove Anna in her personal fight for her mother: “I am her voice. I’m not here in her place, but for her.” During this time, family, friends and the Ukrainian team worried about the warm-hearted and always optimistic Taira.

But then came the unexpected address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “Dear Ukrainians. Today I can finally tell you good news. We were able to free Ukrainian paramedic Yuliia “Taira” Paievska.” The news went around the world.

Author: Ann-Christin Mack