Saturday, April 20, 2024

Alexander Gonsul becoming cross-country co-driver at Rallye TT Cuenca

Alexander Gonsul will join Sergey Romanovsky in becoming cross-country rally navigators when they take part in the Rallye TT Cuenca on 20/21 October. Over a year removed from losing his left arm and right leg defending Ukraine from invasion, Gonsul will be the co-driver on a SKARLAT XTRM driven by Ivan Barbero in the ParaBaja category.

Gonsul joined Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces in March 2022 shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, while his wife and then-five-year-old son were brought to safety in Germany. After serving in an air defence capacity in Kyiv, his 242nd Territorial Defence Brigade began operating in Kharkiv Oblast with particular emphasis on Dementiivka; located north of Kharkiv city, Dementiivka is a small village along the road from Russia’s Belgorod region to Kharkiv, making it a crucial point to hold. Russian forces had taken control of the village in the early days of the invasion before Ukraine recaptured it, triggering a see-saw battle through the summer before Ukraine finally pushed the occupiers out of the oblast by October.

In July, during his third day in the battle for Dementiivka, Gonsul and a nearby comrade were hit by a land mine, killing the latter. The explosion blew off Gonsul’s right leg while his left arm sustained severe injuries as he was thrown into a nearby trench. Suffering from blood loss, a left forearm barely connected to the rest of the limb, and major shrapnel wounds that punctured his lungs, he received first aid under fire before he could be evacuated four to five hours later to Kharkiv. By the time he reached the hospital, the left arm could not be saved and was amputated. Gonsul spent five days in intensive care, during which he endured blood poisoning that nearly caused his intestines to fail, before being moved to Kyiv in August for further treatment. In an April 2023 interview with the Daily Express, he described the six months that followed as “living in pain full time.”

Upon his release, he received a prosthetic for his right leg from Allbionics, a Ukrainian company specialised in providing bionic limbs with AI technology. Gonsul eventually returned to his pre-invasion day job as a software developer in Kyiv before getting his arm prosthesis.

Born in 1985, Gonsul was raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, while his father served in the Soviet Armed Forces. The family moved to Kyiv after the elder Gonsul’s discharge.

He and Romanovsky will head to Spain on invitation from the Real Federación Española de Automovilismo, whose inclusivity committee wished to help wounded Ukrainian troops have a healthy transition back into civilian life by providing a route into motorsport as rally co-drivers. Romanovsky, a paratrooper, lost his right leg during the war’s early months in 2014.

Dakar Rally bike racer Vadim Pritulyak is leading the project and will drive a SKARLAT with Romanovsky as his navigator; SKARLATs are used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to evacuate injured personnel. Gonsul’s driver Barbero is a Spaniard who competes in ParaBaja races in a Toyota FJ Cruiser.

ParaBaja is a non-competition class for people with reduced mobility. This caveat means competitors are not timed and simply finishing the rally holds priority over specific performance.

While the category’s organiser ParaBaja Step by Step only focuses on supporting the Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship, Ukrainians like Pritulyak and veteran navigator Vitaliy Yevtyekhov have expressed interest in creating their own version back home. Yevtyekhov has even suggested a team of injured Ukrainian troops challenging the Dakar Rally, a model previously used by the Anglo-American Race2Recovery team that successfully finished the 2013 and 2014 editions.

The Rallye TT Cuenca will be the season finale for the 2023 Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship.