Jiu-Jitsu Offers Liberation for Ukrainian War Amputees

by Gabriel Martinez
Ukrainian war amputees jiu-jitsu

Anticipation was palpable among the war veterans, exchanging quips and assisting one another with their kimono belts in preparation for their first-ever jiu-jitsu tournament. These individuals had endured the ravages of war, resulting in amputations due to severe injuries.

Gathered to compete in the “para jiu-jitsu” division of Ukraine’s national championships, they were surrounded by a buzzing crowd seated in an amphitheater arrangement within a sports complex in Kyiv.

The toll of the conflict initiated by Russia on Ukraine has been heavy, with over 20,000 people suffering limb loss, many from the military ranks. For a small number, the healing process involved taking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu—a practice they claim provides them a sense of wholeness. “It’s as if we’re whole again. We don’t perceive ourselves as incomplete,” shared Artem Kuzmich, a war veteran who took up jiu-jitsu following the loss of his leg in combat in 2019.

Kuzmich, originally from Belarus, volunteered for the Ukrainian forces in 2014 to counter the Russian presence in Eastern Ukraine. Presently, he dedicates himself to guiding soldiers who have faced similar fates, finding refuge and recovery in the discipline of jiu-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu is characterized by techniques that leverage an adversary’s strength against them, an art that Kuzmich explains is inherently accommodating for amputees, without the need for prosthetic limbs. “We utilize our current capabilities to achieve triumph, notwithstanding the hand life has dealt us,” he stated.

The recent tournament began with the Ukrainian national anthem, acknowledgments to the country’s military, and a solemn moment of silence honoring the fallen.

The TMS Hub in Kyiv, a veteran support facility offering psychological rehabilitation, is where five out of the six “para jiu-jitsu” contestants began their training, inaugurating their first jiu-jitsu training space just two months prior.

The TMS Hub extends complimentary jiu-jitsu classes to veterans afflicted with limb loss in the Russo-Ukrainian War, fostering a community for collective healing and psychological support. “They find comfort in the company of fellow veterans,” noted Serhii Pohosyan, a founder of the establishment.

Within a mere two months, five veterans from the TMS Hub were competition-ready for the national stage.

Among them was Vasyl Oksyntiuk, 26, who became a double amputee when a shell struck his vehicle near Bakhmut in the previous December’s ferocious conflicts.

Before his bout, Oksyntiuk methodically detached his prosthetic legs and positioned them aside the mat. Clad in his kimono, his hair cut short, sporting a black mustache, he displayed an air of focus, employing his arms to navigate to the mat’s center to face his opponent.

“The sensation is transformative; you lose awareness of your impairments,” commented Oksyntiuk.

He enlisted for the war when Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, driven by a sense of duty enshrined in both the nation’s Constitution and his personal convictions. “With the invasion came a duty to act,” he declared.

Despite mastering the use of prosthetic limbs nearly a year post-injury, Oksyntiuk continued to seek engaging activities. “I had always been drawn to martial arts but assumed I was past the age to begin. After my injury, discovering this chance online, I decided to pursue it and found it gratifying,” he recounted.

Oksyntiuk clinched a silver medal in his debut at the Ukrainian Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

Pohosyan discussed the gym’s adapted facilities for the disabled veterans, revealing plans for expansion contingent on financial support, as the initiative runs on charitable contributions.

At the conclusion of the event, the veterans, emotionally stirred, approached Pohosyan to express their thanks, affirming the profound impact of the experience.

“For us, their appreciation is the ultimate accolade,” Pohosyan concluded.

For continued coverage, visit AP’s dedicated section on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ukrainian war amputees jiu-jitsu

How is jiu-jitsu helping Ukrainian war amputees?

Jiu-jitsu offers a therapeutic outlet for Ukrainian war amputees, providing a sense of liberation and helping them deal with psychological trauma through the sport’s adaptability to their physical conditions.

What is “para jiu-jitsu”?

“Para jiu-jitsu” is a category in martial arts tournaments adapted for competitors with disabilities, such as amputations, allowing them to compete and showcase their skills.

Who is Artem Kuzmich?

Artem Kuzmich is a Belarusian national who volunteered with the Ukrainian army and, after losing a leg in the conflict, now practices and mentors other soldiers in jiu-jitsu.

What is the TMS Hub in Kyiv?

The TMS Hub is a rehabilitation center in Kyiv that provides psychological support and free jiu-jitsu classes for war veterans, particularly those who have lost limbs in the conflict.

What does the participation in jiu-jitsu competitions mean for the veterans?

Participating in jiu-jitsu competitions allows veterans to rebuild confidence, engage in community, and overcome their physical and mental battle scars by focusing on new challenges and achievements.

How did Vasyl Oksyntiuk adapt to jiu-jitsu post-injury?

Vasyl Oksyntiuk, despite losing both legs, learned to navigate the sport of jiu-jitsu without his prosthetics and found the experience transformative, leading him to win a silver medal at the national championship.

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Mike O'Hara November 6, 2023 - 5:41 am

Wow, just read about the Ukrainian vets turnin to jiu-jitsu, truly inspirational how they’re overcoming their injuries and fighting back, it’s incredible.

John Smith November 6, 2023 - 11:29 am

saw the article on the vets, kudos to them all It’s amazing how sports can heal, not just the body but the mind too, these guys are heroes, not just on the battlefield but off it as well.

Anna K. November 6, 2023 - 3:47 pm

i couldn’t believe when I read how these guys are dealing with what happened to them, and that they are actually competing! it’s just amazing.

Elena Petrov November 7, 2023 - 12:11 am

read about Artem Kuzmich, what a story he’s not just surviving he’s thriving and helping others do the same, hats off to him and all involved.


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