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Ukrainian-born Team USA Paralympic athlete reflects on ‘resilient’ gold medal win amid war

Oksana Masters wrote that she wants to "make every start line and finish line mean something much bigger than a race or a result" amid the war in Ukraine.

Oksana Masters has her home country of Ukraine in her heart after winning a gold medal for the United States during the Winter Paralympics.

Masters, who was born in Ukraine and adopted at 7, shared a throwback photo of herself as a child on Instagram, alongside a more recent picture of herself posing with American and Ukrainian flags. In a heartfelt caption, Masters wrote about what it's like to win a medal for the United States as the Ukraine-Russia war wreaks devastation on her home country.

“It has been difficult to find my passion and desire to compete at these Games amid the war my home country of Ukraine is enduring,” she wrote. “I feel selfish, helpless, and guilty for being here. However, I have always been so proud to be Ukrainian, felt so much pride at the sight of the Ukrainian flag, and now more than ever, I am the proudest to say I am Ukrainian. My mom always said my Ukrainian heart made me resilient; it made me a fighter.”

The 32-year-old athlete said that the Winter Paralympic Games, which began on March 4 and will run until March 14, have reminded her just how much of an impact athletes can have in the world.

"I will be racing for more than just my own goals, more than a spot on the podium. Every pole stroke, I will be racing for the families and kids in Ukraine with disabilities," Masters wrote. "While the Ukrainian people are fighting for their homes and peace, I want to make every start line and finish line mean something much bigger than a race or a result.”

Masters went on to look back on her own experience as a child in Ukraine before she was adopted by a woman in the United States. Masters lived in three orphanages after she was given up for adoption due to her birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, according to her website.

“I want to help make sure no child is forgotten,” she wrote. “I know how it felt to be a child in Ukraine with disabilities where the resource for medical help was slim to non-existent — more now in the midst of a war.”

Masters, who is a biathlete and cross-country skier, took home the United States’ first gold medal for the Winter Paralympics on Saturday, March 5. Her gold medal in the women’s biathlon sitting sprint became her fifth career Paralympic gold medal.

On Sunday, she also took home the silver in the long-distance sitting cross-country skiing event.

On Thursday, February 24 when Russia first began attacks on Ukraine, Masters wrote about how she balances her Ukrainian and American identities, especially amid escalating tensions in her home country.

“One of my favorite parts of competing at Paralympic games is I’m always side-by-side with these two flags,” she said. “My heart & soul is Ukrainian & American. But, Tonight my heart is breaking for my country of birth that was my home for 8 years. It is breaking for the people of Ukraine.”

She continued, adding, “I still have dreams that can only come true in Ukraine. I pray for peace and safety for all Ukrainians. For the safety of my friends & family. Forever and always I will #standwithukraine.”