Translated from Ukrainian by Svitlana Bregman
This story is part of a series of essays and articles written by Ukrainian artists who decided to stay inside Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This series is produced in collaboration with the Folkowisko Association/Rozstaje.art, thanks to co-funding by the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia through a grant from the International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.
In 2022, Orysia Demyaniuk postponed her athletic career to collect donations to buy cars and military equipment for a unit where her brother and husband serve on the frontline.
Demyaniuk is a five-time champion for Ukraine in the 1,500-meter race. She is a mentor at the Ukrainian Academy of Leadership and a founder of the running club. Her husband, Dmytro Demyaniuk, a two-time Olympic Games contender, has been on the front line since April 2022, two months after Russia invaded Ukraine. He was inspired to go by Orysia’s brother, Yurii. Yurii had been living in Poland for three years, but he returned to Ukraine to defend his homeland. Orysia also wanted to join her husband and brother, but they persuaded her to stay behind and help them from afar.
The athlete channeled all her social capital and energy to help the brigade where her brother and her husband were serving. To start with, she was able to locate three vehicles to donate to the cause. Vehicles are basically disposable during war. They are under constant fire and are destroyed every day. The military must constantly fundraise to buy more.
Orysia was so driven to help the war effort that she began to organize public charity events to benefit her close circle and other people in need. She started a fee-based race to support residents of the temporarily occupied Kherson and charity training sessions to accept donations for tactical medical kits. She went further and co-organized the “100,000 Race For Body Armor Vests,” where they managed to fundraise UAH 2 million (USD 54,147) and engaged people from 37 countries.
One morning, Orysia received a call from her brother Yurii. “Well,” he declared, “On second thought, we decided with the fellows that we need an armored personnel carrier (APC).” She was a little shocked but did not lose her zeal.
Yuri explained that they had suffered losses that they wouldn’t have if they’d had an APC, and Orysia began the quest.
First, she just posted to her Instagram story. People were poking fun at her, asking how on earth was she planning to find an APC? After all, it’s nothing like buying a bicycle.
Her brother helped her to find the armored vehicle. An experienced mechanic, he used to buy spare parts on a Polish online market platform, which is where he found the first armored personnel carrier. And then another because the first vehicle had already been sold. Next, it was Orysia’s turn.
On the morning Yurii called, the members of the Plast Scout organization had a meeting with Orysia to discuss the “body armor” race. She suggested they should change it to “I Run For An APC,” to fundraise for Brigade 103 of the Civil Defense.
Hundreds of people came to Stryiskyi Park in Lviv in early December and contributed to the cause. You could also run for the APC online. They managed to quickly raise UAH 600,000 (USD 16,243), but they needed twice as much.
“It was the festive season. At the end of December, everyone was probably buying Christmas presents,” Orysia recalls. “I didn't feel like saying, ‘Don't buy your kids presents. Donate to the APC instead!’ But I kept posting IG stories, saying that little boys were playing with their toy cars and big guys needed an APC. Let's make a present for them, too. And that is how the donations started coming in from all over.”
The armored personnel carrier was demilitarized. And the military needed to have it armored.
In a joint effort, they managed to raise UAH 1,221 million (USD 33,056) to get that APC. It took a long time but Oryssia did not give up: she called the banks hundreds of times, she asked questions, she searched for different solutions.
“To withdraw money in another country, you need to have it declared. I did not have a volunteer account. It was just my personal bank card. Then, I had to worry lest I am put in jail. God bless all the bank consultants for how much I pestered them with all my questions about all possible details.” Orysia is laughing.
It took several weeks before the APC, not uneventfully, managed to cross the Ukrainian border from Poland. Yurii was forced to come home for some time after he got injured in a blast, and he managed to repair the vehicle. Although he was a mechanic by training, he had to read a lot of articles and watch videos to understand how to handle the APC.
“I thought I’d get some rest at home, but no way! I went to the garage every day. I didn’t mind spending my free time on this. The war is raging today, so, in your free time, do something for victory’s sake. When the war is over, then everyone can mind their own civilian personal business.”
After consulting with Polish experts in such machinery and having done his own research, Yurii repaired the APC to the best of his abilities. And then, he was urgently called back to the front lines.
A month later, Yurii’s brother-in-arms, Ihor, came to Lviv. He got behind the wheel of the vehicle and took it to have counter-heat screening welded on to protect it from artillery impacts. The 103rd Brigade was waiting for the APC. It would just take a few steps to get it into the right hands.
When asked whether she was going to organize another fundraiser, Orysia replied: “It is not about my plans or desires. Those are just the needs of the military that I am trying to provide for somehow.”
Orysia's life during the war
Orysia’s days usually begin with morning training sessions at her running club. Then, she works for eight hours at the Ukrainian Leadership Academy and finishes the day with another training session at the club.
“Recently, I realized how much I actually loved the training,” she says. “For an hour and a half, we all laugh together, recall things, and at this very moment, we do not think about the war. The club helps to cope with it all, and to work, and to donate to the army. I help them, and they help me back.”
Orysia works as a mentor in physical development and security at the Academy. In her course, she talks about a healthy lifestyle, nutrition, running, and the half-marathon that Academy students must prepare for during a period of 10 months.
“It’s all moving all the time. Things are happening. In my case, that’s a great thing to have; the days are flying fast, and the year passed very quickly. If it weren’t for the Academy, I probably would have been on antidepressants for a long time now.”
Meanwhile, she manages to squeeze into her schedule fundraising for night vision devices, cars, gunsights, the organization of an international online race, the search for the APC and its transportation to Ukraine.
A month ago, Orysia decided to start training again, as since February 24, 2022, she had only been training others.
“I would like to go back to something from my past life. Sport is what I can manage,” Orysia explains. “My coach, Vitaly Tarnakin, jokes that the championship of Ukraine is scheduled for this year in Lviv. So I still have time to get ready. He is certainly half-joking, but last time the jokes led to the situation when I started training in November, and, as soon as January, I won the Ukrainian Cup and the national team championship. Back then, I won all competitions where I participated, except for the championship of Ukraine that had to begin on February 25, in Sumy. But it never happened.”
Orysia calls her life after February 24 last year a marathon that she had not been prepared for, but she still had to run. She hopes the finish line is right around the corner. But it’s not coming.
In anticipation of this finish line, everyone makes their own plans. Orysia and Dmytro’s “After the Victory” list includes a plan to have a child and to take a seaside vacation.
“Perhaps, it is not so much about the physical fatigue because I am used to this in sports,” says Dmytro. “But in my mind, and mentally, I just want to think about nothing, to go on a trip with my love, although I have no idea when the chance will come. I hope it happens as soon as possible.”
As for Yurii, he just wants to finally be around his loved ones whose prayers have protected him. And he does not want to have to think of how many brothers-in-arms died this day.