Roman Pashkovskiy. The Invincibility Code: True Stories of Modern Heroes

Supported FAVBET Foundation

Roman Pashkovskiy was born in 1984. He studied photography and graduated from Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts in 2008. He began working in commercial photography, but a desire to experiment with genres, forms and context eventually brought him to the Viktor Marushchenko School of Photography, which he graduated in 2013. Since then, he has been working with social landscapes, intimate portraits, and conceptualised commissions. Pashkovskiy’s photographs have been displayed at group and solo exhibitions such as Up (Radisson Hotel Kyiv, 2009), Crimea Dreams (French Institute in Ukraine, 2014), MirArt (Boryspil International Airport, 2015), a group exhibition at a private gallery in Geneva, Switzerland (2015), Kyiv Art Week (Toronto-Kyiv Business Centre, 2017), and Gallery 48 (Kyiv, 2017). Some of Roman’s works are displayed in private collections.

The Invincibility Code: True Stories of Modern Heroes

The Invincibility Code: True Stories of Modern Heroes tells the stories of those who have learned to turn their life around through sport. These people served in the conflict in the east of Ukraine which took a heavy toll on their health. But these heroes refused to give up. Instead, they pushed through the pain barrier, and thanks to their perseverance and a huge amount of hard work these former soldiers have now become stronger than ever.

Now these ex-servicemen and -women are professional athletes who represent Ukraine at the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for veterans with disabilities, similar to the Paralympic Games. They have become heroes twice over, going beyond what they thought they were capable of and still with the desire to move forward.

FAVBET Foundation is an ambitious, up-and-coming charity established by the betting company FAVBET, which celebrates the unbreakable spirit of those who never give up. The foundation helps people to overcome the barriers they face in their everyday lives, especially in the world of sport. For this exact reason, FAVBET Foundation has partnered with Photo Kyiv 2021, whose main theme – “[In]visible Lives” – is closely aligned with the values of the organisation.

In his photos, photographer Roman Pashkovskiy portrays the incredible energy, love for sport, determination, hunger for victory and superhuman abilities that pump through the veins of each of his subjects.

The Invincibility Code: True Stories of Modern Heroes. FAVBET Foundation supports veterans who have found new life thanks to sport

There are many people among us who aren’t able to use even the simplest things on a daily basis. They encounter barriers to the normal life that everyone should be able to lead. They are left feeling excluded. Unfortunately, there are thousands of such people. People for whom urban infrastructure doesn’t fit their basic needs, people who can’t go on holiday or even to the cinema. Employers don’t want to hire them and they are dependent on those around them. People with special needs, pensioners, women, the elderly and parents with young children. Normal people, one might think. However, the time has come to tell the whole country about them, to bring attention to this issue, which has long been a cultural problem as well as a social one. It’s time to bring down the barriers which make it so hard for some people to simply exist in society, leaving them feeling side-lined. Our main goal is to make inclusivity the new social norm rather than just another long-term strategy. What makes this difficult is the many different iterations that inclusivity can take.

There is physical inclusivity, which involves access to buildings, infrastructure and public transport. Likewise, inclusivity in sport involves access to sports facilities and special programmes, as well as the development of sports associations. Digital inclusivity ensures easy access to digital services for everyone, and political inclusivity encourages more women to become involved in political processes, making it possible for all social segments to become participate actively in public life.

This is precisely why this year Photo Kyiv 2021 is raising awareness issue of inclusivity for those who haven’t given up hope, but have stayed involved in sport, are learning new trades, finding like-minded people and inspiring thousands of others just like them. FAVBET Foundation is an ambitious, up-and-coming charitable organisation established by the betting company FAVBET. It is presenting the Invincibility Code: True Stories of Modern Heroes. These are stories of people who have learned to turn their life around through the world of sport.

Whilst not so long ago they were business leaders, designers or entrepreneurs, these heroes were duty bound to serve their country in battle, where they lost the most important thing of all – their health. However, they didn’t give up and fall apart. Instead, they pushed through the pain, and with a huge amount of hard work and perseverance these former soldiers have become stronger than ever. Now, they are professional athletes who represent Ukraine at the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for veterans similar to the Paralympics.

Roman Pashkosvkiy’s photos tell the stories of how nine people became heroes: Ivan Lepekha, Artem Lukashuk, Yuliia Paievska, Maksym Yermokhin, Sergey Pryadka, Rodion Sitdikov, Oleksandr Zozuliak, Dmytro Afanasiev and Paul Kovalskyi. Each of these stories is unpredictable and unique in its own way, but on the order hand, they are also quite similar. They are all united by a common thread which makes them stronger together. It makes them invincible.

Ivan Lepekha

Ivan hails from Rivne. He sustained a severe spinal injury in combat, but thanks to a lot of hard swimming training, he got back on his feet and joined the Ukrainian national team for the Invictus Games.

Ivan volunteered in 2014. By 2015, he was in the Aidar battalion. It was then that he was injured. The veteran’s spirit wasn’t crushed, and he decided to harness sport as a means of recovery. Swimming gave him “new legs”, and thanks to the difficulties he has faced he has extra strength to prevail in sport and overcome his internal struggles. Before his injury, Ivan did not swim at all.

In 2019, Ivan trained with the Invictus team and was supposed to represent Ukraine in The Hague, but the games were postponed due to the pandemic. However, this only made Ivan more excited. His family (he has a wife and son) and every training session give him inspiration.

Artem Lukashuk

Artem began serving his country in 2013 in the 25th Independent Airlanding Brigade, and when the war broke out, he was sent to the frontlines. In 2014, the brigade was hit by artillery fire, but Artem survived. His right foot was damaged by a shell fragment, which resulted in muscle atrophy and a severe brain contusion.

Sport lead Artem on a new path and to new victories. In 2016 he set up a football team in Cherkasy. He also helps people like himself to recover: Artem manages a rehabilitation department for war veterans at the regional Administration of Family, Youth and Sport in Cherkasy.

Artem’s path to joining the Invictus team required perseverance. In 2017 he was in the reserves, but now he is in the main team. Besides sport, Artem is inspired by his family, “If I win a medal, I don’t want it to be put on me, but on my son. It will be a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Yuliia Paievska

A Ukrainian folk hero, from a military family, an athlete to the bone, Yuliia (aka Taira) is a strong-spirited woman who saves lives and souls at the front.

Sport has always been part of Yuliia’s life. She has been a swimmer since she was young, then she studied aikido with some of the most famous masters. She taught aikido and trained athletes for 20 years, before the war she had experience in providing first aid to victims of road accidents and injured athletes. The Maidan demonstrations changed Taira’s life. She provided first aid to the wounded during the Revolution of Dignity. Afterwards, she taught tactical combat casualty care (TCCC), and later went to the frontline to serve as a paramedic and teach TCCC.

Yuliia is the founder and manager of a volunteer medical evacuation unit known as Taira’s Angels and she spent two years in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. She serves alongside men and believes that gender is not important in warfare. Since the beginning of the war, she has saved over 600 soldiers and taught more than 10,000 people TCCC. Yuliia has suffered multiple injuries at the front, including several contusions, and in 2018, she underwent hip replacement surgery (two endoprostheses).

Taira is motivated by her endless love for Ukraine and for sport. Yuliia is sure that training hardens the spirit and builds character. The only woman in the Invictus national team is hoping to continue winning and to inspire her fellow citizens.

Maksym Yermokhin

“After you are injured, you realise that your life has completely changed. It’s not easy, but you must always remember that the only limitations are in your head.”

Maksym lost his leg in 2018 during a mission in the war in the Donetsk region. After undergoing numerous operations, he was given a prosthetic leg. Maksym found strength in his friends, girlfriend, relatives, good humour, and something completely new: running with a special prosthetic leg.

He started getting involved in sport again almost immediately after being wounded. The results of his perseverance in training were accompanied by new achievements. He made the Ukrainian national team for the Invictus and Warrior Games, won the gold medal at the British Virtual Rowing Championships and silver in the 1000 metres at the International Online Competition. Maksym is currently preparing for the finals of the Invictus Games in The Hague and the Warrior Games in Orlando.

Sergey Pryadka

A veteran with principles of steel and a strong spirit, Sergey lost his leg at the front. Since then, he has mastered four different sports at a professional level.

During the war, Sergey sustained a severe injury. In 2017, during the evacuation in the battle of Svitlodarsk, he suffered a direct hit from a guided antitank missile.

Sergey got involved in sport, in a wheelchair at first. This was when he began to take part in the Invictus Games. But he quickly realised that he wanted and was able to achieve more. Sergey began riding a horse and later started doing crossfit. He is the only veteran who is engaged in equestrian sport and has made significant achievements.

Sergey was convinced to become a member of the Invictus team because a friend joked, “Either apply for the Invictus Games or admit on Facebook that you are a weakling.” And now he is preparing to compete in four separate disciplines: wheelchair racing, rowing, discus throwing and shot put.

Outside of sport, Sergey is inspired by working with children, so he established the Cossack Sails sailing school and plans to further romote this.

Rodion Sitdikov

Rodion has always held Ukraine dear to his heart. He has fought for his country since 2014. In 2019 he was diagnosed with cancer, but thanks to his perseverance he was able to find rejuvenation in sport.

Rodion was born in Siberia, but he has been a Ukrainian for as long as he can remember. He went to school in Ukraine and married a Ukrainian woman. After the Maidan protests, Rodion quit his role as the chairman of the regional board of a Ukrainian-Danish furniture factory and volunteered as a rifleman.

In 2015, he suffered a significant loss of vision and hearing, and he had a contusion and two brain tumours. Rodion was sent home, even though he did not want to leave.

He began to get involved in sport. At first, he ran 100 metres, then 10 kilometres. He built himself a multifunctional exercise machine to get in shape. Thanks to his active involvement in sport, his health improved and the disease retreated. Rodion took the silver medal in the shot put during qualification for the Invictus Games. Every day he proves to himself and to the world that an unbreakable spirit can work miracles.

Oleksandr Zozuliak

A former entrepreneur who survived an encounter with a tank on the front line, Oleksandr won the gold in the National Veterans Qualifiers and was a silver medallist at the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney.

When the war began, Oleksandr immediately went to the front, where the battle for Debaltseve turned out to be life-changing for him. In a skirmish with a tank belonging to the occupying forces, Oleksandr ended up underneath it. The 37-year-old saw the enormous vehicle crush his arm and leg into the ground. The caterpillar tracks ran over him twice. He suffered numerous fractures to his arms, ribs, pelvis, and left leg. His body was broken. It was a distressing sight. The arm that was broken by the tank had to be amputated.

Now Zozuliak is a skilled archer using a prosthetic arm. In the qualifiers for the national Invictus Games team in 2017-2018, he was the best cyclist, winning the gold medal. Rejuvenated by sport, Oleksandr has no doubts that he lives a fulfilling life, “Sport for me is a lifestyle. My body is in better shape now than it was before I was wounded. I keep moving, growing and improving.”

Dmytro Afanasiev

A patriot and a warrior, Dmytro took his teenage passion for archery to a new, higher level.

Dmytro was a career soldier and when the war broke out, he immediately went to do his duty: to protect his country. In 2014, he headed east, and then for Mariupol. It was there that Dmytro received a gunshot wound to the stomach.

After the injury, Dmytro had to learn to breathe, eat and walk again. He then went back to the front, this time as a staff officer. Sport helps him to recoup his strength. It also gives the opportunity to get closure. During his school years, Dmytro dabbled in archery. Today Afanasiev takes his sport to a professional level.

Paul Kovalsky

An archer and rower, Paul goes by the callsign Pashtet. Despite a closed head injury, he made the Invictus team.

Paul heroically defended his country practically from the outbreak of the war. From spring to autumn 2014, he was involved in combat operations in the 51st Defence and Assault Brigade in eastern Ukraine. He was then transferred to an independent battalion of the 128th Independent Mountain Infantry Brigade. In 2015, he received a closed head injury during direct tank attacks and enemy shelling in an active phase of the battle for Debaltseve.

The doctors’ diagnosis wasn’t good: a serious contusion total exhaustion, and protruding discs throughout his spine. The doctors said that he mustn’t do sport and that the maximum load his arms could bear was no more than a few kilograms.

Kovalskyi was inspired by a friend, “Vadim ran faster on four prostheses than I did with a healthy body. That’s where I got my motivation”. Paul got into the national team, although not at the first attempt. Now he is focused on hard work and winning.